on 4 January 2013
Since the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson, I've tried to find books giving a fuller understanding about the Higgs field and this is the best so far. It does emphasise the reality of the field and tries to explain to laymen such as myself some of the concepts of the associated field theories. In this it has limited success - I still felt the need for more intuitive understanding but maybe it is the nature of the quantum theory beast that this is not possible. The author gives a good account of the accelerator story leading up to the construction and operation of the LHC and this, together with the explanations of the theory behind the predictions makes for a very readable and interesting book.
on 30 December 2012
I read A Brief History of Time aged 18, which left me wanting to know so much more. I've read Feynman, Green and Penrose in the mean time, but finally I've found a book which explains some very complex ideas in a clear and readable way. The more advanced ideas are tucked away into three appendices, so as not over complicate the main text. There are also chapters explaining the history and the politics surrounding high energy particle research, which really sets the context. Like all good science books it also left me with a few new questions. An excellent read, I couldn't put it down.
on 22 January 2013
I have bought a number of books (both traditional and Kindle) on this and similar subjects over the past few years and have a growing understanding and fascination for all things quantum as well as cosmology-related (everything from string theory to multiverses to Higgs and QED etc.). Because I am not blessed with a natural gift for handling complex mathematics I try and get my hands on publications that go about things without too much confusing gobbledegook and this book is an excellent case in point. Sean Carroll has a very enjoyable and original writing style. Where possible he goes about explaining things in a different and interesting way, drawing where possible from his own successful ways of getting to grips with most of this as he presumably leaned it all. The only downside was the section on the history of the colliders which was too long and not all of which was interesting enough to keep my attention. Don't get me wrong, it is important to understand this history and the logic behind the various experiments that were carried out. It was just that it went on too long in places and lost a bit of the momentum that had been gained earlier in the book as a consequence. Once through that however the book returns to being an excellent read. Stage by stage the author explains the Standard Model, in manageable chunks, and even a novice will get to the point where he/she feels they have a grasp of the fundamental particles and fields, those that have mass (fermions) and those that don't (bosons) which make up the universe in which we live. The fact that we need to understand that despite how things may intuitively seem, we actually live in a sea of fields, of which matter/mass is an occasional consequence!! The search for and discovery of the Higgs (or something extremely like it) becomes all the more impressive an achievement when we fully understand how we got to this point in time, and the ramifications of the proof of its existence. In the main a riveting read, fast-moving, well-written, funny in places, never ostentatious or presumptious. Four out of five. Recommended.
on 31 December 2012
Firstly, I am no physicist and in the almost 15 years since I obtained a 'B' in GCSE physics, I have probably read fewer than five science books of any description.
However, like a lot of people I have followed the news from the Large Hadron Collider with great interest since the hype began in earnest some time in 2007 or 2008, without ever really understanding why. Obviously, the search for the Higgs boson, and the subsequent tentative discovery are greatly important, but beyond trotting out the line that 'The Higgs boson gives the universe mass', I would struggle to hold a conversation about it on almost any level.
So it goes without saying that I have read this from a greatly uninformed opinion, and what I have read and understood as briliant explanations of the science behind the 'Higgs' might not necessarily impress a science student quite as much.
The book is a fantastic mix of science, history and biography aimed squarely at the general reader. It works on many levels, as an entry-level introduction to particle physics, as a history of the major developments in 'Higgs' theory (which obviously includes Higgs' own work but is far from exclusively Higgs' theory!), as an explanation of how the Large Hadron Collider works, as a history of how the LHC came to be built, how 'blogs' aid and hinder the scientific process, and many other aspects. Most importantly, it works as a cheerleader for 'big science'.
It'd be impossible to list the many things the book has taught me (not least that the Higgs boson does not give the universe mass!), but it is fair to say there's something interesting on virtually every page. Having read it, the book will be retained as a useful reference if ever I need to look up the definitions of particles etc.
I loved the book, but that is not to say I understood every part of it. I am still a long way from grasping string theory, and indeed most of the post-Standard Model theory. But the book has certainly inspired me to learn more.
As a complete aside, my version is a paperback and was acquired at an airport newsagent (having first seen it in a motorway service station). However subsequent searches in 'proper' bookshops came up blank!
The possible discovery of the Higgs boson has prompted a flurry of books – in part because it’s significant (and because the Large Hadron Collider is a sexy bit of kit) and in part because the whole business of the Higgs field and its importance for the mass of particles is one of the most obscure and unlikely bits of physics in the current canon.
I have really mixed feelings about this entry in the genre from physicist Sean Carroll. It’s not because his book is too difficult to understand – it’s almost because it’s too easy. Generally speaking, there are three levels of good popular science. There’s TV news popular science, which cuts a lot of corners to make things totally simplistic, but manages to get the message across quickly. There’s the kind of book a good popular science writer will produce – highly approachable and readable, giving a lot more depth than the TV news and the best way to actually get an understanding of what’s going on for most of us, but still cutting some scientific corners. And there’s the kind of book a good scientist will write, which will probably go over your head the first time you read it, but if you persevere will give you the best illusion of knowing what the real science is about and getting some feel for the world of the scientist.
In his previous book 'From Eternity to Here', like Cox & Forshaw’s 'Why Does E=mc2', Carroll didn’t pull the punches. Much of the text was readable, but it may well have taken several attempts to get it to sink in. It was the perfect popular science book by an academic. Parts of this one, unfortunately verge on TV science. Some of it is so fluffy and approachable that it almost disappears into meaninglessness.
Luckily, this isn’t true of all the book. The early parts are worse. Oddly, he gets significantly better when talking about the building of the Large Hadron Collider than he does in his first attempts on the physics. And it is worth persevering as Carroll improves with his approach further in (best of all are a few appendices where he goes into more detail and we see the old, mind-bending Carroll emerging).
Some specific issues I had: it was really irritating that Carroll uses units like degrees Fahrenheit and miles rather than scientific (or European) units throughout. This is real poor TV science stuff. A lot of his science is what I’d call ‘plonking’ he states it as if it is absolute truth, not the current best theory. So, for instance, he speaks of dark matter as if it were certain fact (nary a mention of the rival MOND theory). And he says at one point ‘The world is really made out of fields. Sometimes the stuff of the universe looks like particles… but deep down it’s really fields.’
I have two problems with this. One is that one of my absolute heroes was Richard Feynman and he said of light ‘I want to emphasize that light does come in this form – particles.’ If particles are good enough for Feynman, they’re good enough for me. Secondly I think that what Carroll should be saying is ‘fields are the model that work best to describe what’s out there.’ In the end it’s a human devised model of something we can only inspect extremely indirectly. It is almost bound to be wrong – it’s just better than anything else we have at doing the job. (Yet.)
Perhaps the worst problem is the way he oversimplifies. Oddly this is a classic problem when a scientist is writing popular science (and why a good science writer is usually better) because he doesn’t know what the lay reader finds puzzling, so doesn’t bother to explain. His explanation of the application of symmetry to physics simply doesn’t fill in enough of the gaps. He says, for instance, that a mentos and diet coke experiment is symmetrical in all sorts of ways – you can point it in any direction, or translate it to any position and it works the same. Clearly this isn’t true. It wouldn’t work the same if the bottle was upside down, pointing straight at the ground, nor would it be the same if you translated it under the sea or into space. It’s a classic case of handwaving generalisation, missing out all the provisos and so making the explanation fail.
It’s certainly not a bad book – but I did prefer its rivals on a couple of counts. For a better heavy duty attempt at the physics, Frank Close’s 'The Infinity Puzzle' wins (though that definitely is a ‘several reads to get it’ book). And for the best overall description of the search for the Higgs, combined with the most approachable but informative information on the Higgs field and the whole standard model of particle physics I’d recommend 'Higgs' by Jim Baggott. But Sean Carroll’s book still did have a lot going for it and is still well worth considering.
on 17 September 2013
I have to say it is by far the best non mathematical text on particle physics that I have read. It really goes to lengths to try to explain the processes and the history in the best possible way. By the way the particle in the title is the Higgs Boson and the book was written after its discovery. This is the first book that really goes into its importance and relevance which I had struggled to find in other sources. Personally I appreciate the extra stories about the LHC, physicists and earlier events.
on 21 January 2014
If the definition of understanding a subject is being able to summarise it in your own words for the benefit of someone else then I admit failure. Whilst I learnt a lot from this book there was still much that I couldn't fully comprehend. Nevertheless, I doubt that any other author could explain the concept of the Higgs field and Higgs boson in a better way than Sean Carroll. He has a talent for putting across difficult ideas in a way that non-specialists can follow. Yet even he, at least as far as I was concerned, couldn't fully gets the Higgs concept across to the extent that I could fully understand it. But the despite the challenges presented by the book, I still very much enjoyed reading it and I'm undoubtedly better informed than I was before I started, especially on the concept of symmetry which is so important for an understanding of the Higgs theory.
on 21 January 2013
I got this book because I follow Sean Carroll's Cosmic Variance blog, which is very informative and well-written. I'm sorry to say, but I was very disappointed. The content and information may be decent, but the book is messy and baggily put-together; in fact I rather wonder whether it is a set of loosely stitched-together posts from the aforementioned blog. Altogether far too much space is taken up with trivial biographia, and far too long spent lauding the LHC. When he does get into the meat of the matter, the discussion is disorganized: the most egregious example of this is in the "Executive Summary" to Chapter Two, in which he suddenly references in detail symmetry: a concept which he only previously skims past the edge of. Furthermore, certain key concepts are left very late to explain: the relationship between a field and a particle -- which for my money is fundamental to understanding the Higgs -- being introduced well into the book (and even then, rather passingly).
In the end I gave up, and will stick to Cosmic Variance. A shame.
on 21 December 2013
Quite an engaging book that gets better at the end. Seans writing style is light and airy and keeps you turning the page, but I found the complete book structure a little 'bitty'. It doesn't quite flow from cover to cover. Another thing is, it is a little light, it does a good job, but more detail wouldn't have been amiss given that anybody picking this up is probably not shy of the old grey matter.
Still, a 4* star read.
on 29 November 2013
I have read many book on quantum physics, but I think this has to have the best vote. The author explains points in this subject, often left out by other authors and explains them in easy to under stand manor.
You will not be disappointed in this book, even if you are reading the subject for the first time.