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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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There are plenty of books about the hunt for the Higgs boson, most notably Jim Baggott's excellent Higgs, so at first sight, Higgs Force, might seem to be more of the same, but in a couple of areas it is unparalleled in anything I've read in the field.

Where Higgs is very much the story of the hunt with a bit of physics thrown in, Higgs Force takes us on a journey through our developing understanding of the nature of the components of the universe, putting the eventual origin and significance of the Higgs field (and boson) into context.

It's not perfect, by any means, and I was on course to give it four stars rather than five. This is because it has a tendency to concentrate on the bit of the history of science that fit the picture that is being developed, and rather skims over, or even slightly distorts, those that don’t. A good example is the description of Dirac’s relativistic equation for the electron, and his prediction of the positron. The book gives the impression that Dirac stared into the fire for an evening then came up with the whole thing, which misses out a whole lot of duplication of other people’s work and near misses. But more importantly, this book is very much focused on the importance of symmetry and suggests that Dirac’s equation predicted the positron through symmetry considerations. In fact the equation predicted negative energy electrons, which brought Dirac to his outrageously bold suggestion of the negative energy sea, which is anything but symmetrical, and then to the idea that there could be holes in the negative energy sea which could be interpreted as positrons. A very different chain of thought.

However, the reason I eventually overlooked these foibles is that this book fills in the gaps that Higgs misses. In the review for that book I complained 'Like every other book I’ve read on the subject it falls down on making the linkage between the mathematics of symmetry and the particle physics comprehensible.' Although there a few bumpy moments (and I wish the author had given more detail on symmetry groups, which he never actually names) I would say that Nicholas Mee has achieved the impossible, and made a generally clear and (relatively) easy to follow explanation of the significance of symmetry and symmetry breaking that I'd say no one else has really managed. This is an extremely impressive feat. It leaves the description he gives of the various particle accelerators and the actual discover of the Higgs particle feeling rather flat - the book could easily lose a chunk of that, because by comparison it is mundane.

There's one other section where this book absolutely hits the spot: in its description of Feynman diagrams. Many books cover these, and show how they represent, say, the interaction of a photon and an electron - but Higgs Force has by far the best description of Feynman diagrams I’ve ever seen in a popular science book, properly explaining the interface between the diagram and the associated calculations, which is brilliant, and again pretty well unique.

So not a uniformly brilliant book (I also question the relevance of putting puzzles for the reader in a book like this), but where Mee does hit the spot, he achieves a remarkable ability to communicate complexity, and never more so than the fundamental aspect of symmetry and how it has shaped modern particle physics.
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on 10 September 2012
Having always been interested in science, I found the book fascinating and very informative. When I was reading it I couldn't wait for the next chapter. Questions about the fundamental forces that build up the universe were answered in depth, difficult concepts skilfully built up without the use of complicated mathematics. The electromagnetic, strong and weak forces are explained in an extremely clear and concise manner. Any difficulties and misconceptions that cropped up in my head after reading a more challenging passage, were addressed immediately in the following paragraphs.
I particularly enjoyed how the historical and biographical details gave an engaging insight into the lives of the scientists and their discoveries. The level was set just right for me and left me wanting more. I have put what I have learnt to good use, I feel much more confident teaching atomic structure and forces in GCSE physics. I would enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone interested in the fundamental forces of the universe.
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on 14 February 2013
I'm a physics graduate who hasn't really been involved in the science for a long time. This book, like several I've read over the past couple of years, opens up modern physics to the amateur, allowing an appreciation of the subject without the mind blowing mathematics which most of us never encountered or have largely forgotten. I love this type of book, although bits of it need a few re-reads to make sense. If you like the subject, the book is great!!
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on 11 June 2013
Opening sentences: "One hundred metres beneath the ground on the outskirts of Geneva, two protons slam into each other in a mighty collision. The tremendous release of energy produces a new particle, the Higgs, unseen since the very earliest moments of the Universe."

Memorable sentence: "Although some of the concepts of modern physics may be strange and even shocking, it is possible to express them in ordinary language, as I intend to demonstrate."

That's the very challenge which author Nick Mee then sets out to meet - and, for my money, he succeeds. I'm no scientist - failed each of my chemistry, physics and biology O-Levels abysmally. Barely managed to scrape through maths. But I am fascinated by science, by the need to understand - at least at a basic level - what makes the sky blue, the grass green, the planets revolve around each other and, indeed, what holds the universe together. And Higgs Force had brought me closer to that understanding in a way that no other "popular science" book has been able since Carl Sagan.

At one level, it's a Bronowski-like historical account of the steps humanity has taken since the time of the Ancient Greeks to get to grips with science and nature, and the giants who made those discoveries... Euclid's Elements, Plato's Timaeus, Newton's Principia, Gilbert's De Magnete, etc. At the same time, the explanation of those discoveries helps us, through Nick Mee's imaginative use of simple English, to build a model of the universe in our heads with all of its constituent parts and their scale. We might all understand that matter is composed of atoms, but did we realise that "one hundred million carbon atoms in a line would stretch a distance of just two centimetres"? By the end, I even understood (a little) what "quantum mechanics" actually means - simply the way in which elementary particles interact.

I understood too that there are two basic categories of elementary particle - the Fermions (including protons and electrons) from which all matter is composed, and the Bosons (including photons) that pass between other particles to produce physical forces like electro-magnetism and thus gravity, etc.

Which brings us to the Higgs Boson. Named after Peter Higgs (born Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 1929) who calculated that "space" could not be the empty void that we all imagine but must, in fact, be filled with its own force, a "cosmic superconductor" (don't worry, Nick explains superconductors too!).

Nice theory, but how to prove it? And thus the author brings us, at last, to Switzerland, to CERN, and the Large Hadron Collider. But had the "God particle" really been discovered?

"The big day finally arrived on 4 July 2012. With excitement mounting, at the end of the two-hour long talks, Director General Rolf Heuer summed up with the words: 'If I was a layman, I would say I think we have it - you agree?', and the lecture theatre erupted with cheers and rapturous applause. Peter Higgs, who was in the audience, took off his glasses and appeared to brush away a tear."

Who knows? If Nick Mee had been my science teacher, there might have been hope for those O-Levels after all! There was an added bonus with the book too since, when my ordered copy arrived, it was signed by the author himself. Nice touch! And the message inside? May the Force be with you! said Nicholas Mee. Thanks, Nick. Great book!
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on 12 October 2013
Higgs Force by Mee is one of a range of excellent books that I had the good fortune to read ( Green’s The Fabric of the Cosmos; Kumar’s Quantum; Cox’s The Quantum Universe and Baggot’s The Quantum Story) that successfully conveys in a non-mathematical manner the scientific principles that govern the behaviour of the basic constituents of everything.
The book clearly paints the current picture of our knowledge of the building blocks of nature in a very simple and impressive manner.
I strongly recommend Higgs Force to all those readers who are interested in exploring the scientific basis of our existence and who are willing to do so without worrying too much as to what kick-started the process in a ‘big bang’ 14 billion years ago!
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on 12 September 2012
As a non-scientist, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first edition of this book. This new edition, brought bang up to date after the discovery of the Higgs Boson, equally didn't disappoint. With all the best bits of the first edition complete with more information and stunning colour plates this book is a must-read for all lovers of popular science. With Physics currently being such a 'sexy' subject and continually in the news or on TV - I would heartily recommend that you get this book, sit back and enjoy the journey from cover to cover.
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on 31 October 2014
This book brings the fascinating and complex study of science to life. I enjoyed the interesting stories of how our understanding has grown through generations of scientists, each building one upon the work of their predecessors. As an interested amateur, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and now have an understanding of topics such as Quarks and why the discovery of the HIggs particle is so incredible. I thoroughly recommend the book to anyone who wants to widen their knowledge of the subject and who is interested to know more about the fascinating characters who have shaped our understanding. I am now reading Dr Mee's new book called 'Gravity Cracking the Cosmic Code.' It is another fascinating read and again, I recommend to anyone interested in the subject of the science of the cosmos and the stories of scientists from Newton to Stephen Hawking.
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on 24 June 2013
I am an avid reader of popular science, particularly physics and psychology, and this is one of the best books on physics and quantum theory that I have read. Nicholas Mee writes clearly and lucidly, and with an obvious interest and passion for his subject.

He gently takes the reader through a journey of discovery, introducing the reader to some of the important concepts (such as symmetry) which will be important later on. Topics that many people might have heard of but not read about, such as Feynman diagrams and QED, are explained beautifully.

The final build up to the discoveries coming from CERN is a thrilling competition between the world's leading particle colliders. Reading this, I started to feel more as if I was reading a thriller than a story about particle physics. I was totally engrossed and couldn't put the book down.

If you like popular science books about physics then this is definitely the book for you.
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on 2 September 2015
Good general introduction to particle physics but perhaps too much of this as the title leads one to think that the whole book is about Higgs when in fact only the very final small chapter deals directly with this. Otherwise well written and easy (well 'relatively' easy) to follow.
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on 4 August 2014
I very much enjoyed reading this book. The title is arguably a little deceptive in that the Higgs force only comes into its own in the closing chapters of the book. However, the earlier chapters slowly build up to this crescendo with comprehensible, non-mathematical accounts of quantum theory, cosmology, particle physics, the Standard Model, superconductivity and the Large Hadron Collider. And throughout there is an emphasis on the importance of symmetry, which is intended to lead the reader towards the role that the Higgs plays in breaking the symmetry of the electroweak force.

Nonetheless, I found that Mee's explanation of how the Higgs force breaks symmetry and thus gives mass to elementary particles was harder to understand than much of what had gone before in the book. However, I've now read several non-specialist books on this subject, as well as trying to delve deeper behind the scenes, and I've come to recognise that there is no middle ground when it comes to describing how the Higgs mechanism gives mass to particles. At one extreme there is the over-simplified (and inaccurate) sort of answer, along the lines that the Higgs field selectively slows particles down by impeding their movement, effectively increasing their mass. At the other extreme are highly mathematical accounts which refer to scaler fields and symmetry breaking. Mee does a great job of trying to find the centre ground but I feel that it is an unattainable goal through no fault of his. I'm concluding that those of us who are not mathematical physicists just have to accept what the Higgs force does without understanding too deeply how it does it.

Overall, this is a great book and I recommend it as a good introduction to the fascinating world of subatomic physics, including the Higgs mechanism.
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