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Deep Down Things: The Breathtaking Beauty of Particle Physics [Hardcover]

Bruce A. Schumm
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 20, 2004 080187971X 978-0801879715

A useful scientific theory, claimed Einstein, must be explicable to any intelligent person. In Deep Down Things, experimental particle physicist Bruce Schumm has taken this dictum to heart, providing in clear, straightforward prose an elucidation of the Standard Model of particle physics—a theory that stands as one of the crowning achievements of twentieth-century science. In this one-of-a-kind book, the work of many of the past century's most notable physicists, including Einstein, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, Feynman, Gell-Mann, and Weinberg, is knit together in a thorough and accessible exposition of the revolutionary notions that underlie our current view of the fundamental nature of the physical world. Schumm, who has spent much of his life emmersed in the subatomic world, goes far beyond a mere presentation of the "building blocks" of matter, bringing to life the remarkable connection between the ivory tower world of the abstract mathematician and the day-to-day, life-enabling properties of the natural world. Schumm leaves us with an insight into the profound open questions of particle physics, setting the stage for understanding the progress the field is poised to make over the next decade or two.

Introducing readers to the world of particle physics, Deep Down Things opens new realms within which are many clues to unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

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Deep Down Things: The Breathtaking Beauty of Particle Physics + The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics + QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton Science Library)
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Editorial Reviews


A fascinating journey into the bizarre, subatomic world of particle physics.


Quantum field theory, group theory, Lie algebras, internal symmetry spaces and gauge theory. [Schumm] does a remarkably good job of explaining all this, with a style that is mercifully plain.

(Peter de Groot New Scientist)

Explores the world of particle physics in terms laymen can understand.

(Santa Cruz Sentinel)

I expect that any physics undergraduate, bewildered by textbooks and lectures, would find this a delight.

(Stephen Battersby New Scientist)

One of several recently published books attempting to provide for interested nonphysicists a relatively nonmathematical account of what has come to be called the standard model of particle physics... Schumm's treatment is perhaps more detailed.


Bruce Schumm's new book on elementary particle physics, Deep Down Things, is an ambitious and very successful non-mathematical description of the nature and significance of the world of elementary particles and forces. The book is for the non-mathematician, the non-scientist interested in elementary particle physics, and the young student who has not yet begun to study physics. The subjects discussed range from the wave-particle duality and basic quantum mechanical ideas, through description of the four fundamental forces, to the inner theoretical world of particle physics—symmetries and gauge theory. The book ends with an exciting discussion of what we don't know including the recently discovered mystery of neutrino oscillations.

(Martin Perl, the 1995 Nobel Laureate in Physics)

The Standard Model is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of the twentieth century. Everything around us is made of particles called quarks and leptons influencing one another by exchanging bosons. Readers who want more than a surface treatment of this modern paradigm of particle physics should turn to Bruce Schumm's fine book on the topic.

(Michael Riordan, author, The Hunting of the Quark)

This is definitely a book for your Christmas list, and if it doesn't excite your mathematics colleagues too, they'll miss a treat.

(Rick Marshall School Science Review)

This book is beautifully written and is a didactic masterpiece.

(David Watts Science and Christian Belief)

About the Author

Bruce A. Schumm is a professor of physics at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (October 20, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080187971X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801879715
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
246 of 251 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book is Released & Available for Purchase October 27, 2004
I had the opportunity to read this book as a longstanding draft before it went into publication (then titled "Patterns and Paradigms"). Shortly afterwards, I opened what turned out to be enjoyable correspondence with the author. He surprised me with the news that this book was recently released and ready for purchase through the publishers. I since then bought the published edition and this review represents an analysis of the released hardback. The fact that the author took more than four years to write and polish this fine book for the general public shows in its tight, cogent and succinct style and content.

Deep Down Things (the Breathtaking Beauty of Particle Physics) gets its title from a beautiful verse in Gerard Manley Hopkins fitting poem God's Grandeur "And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things"

In the Preface the author explains that the title is meant to convey that "Deep down within the atomic nucleus, deeply within the paradoxical richness of empty space, deep inside the synapses of the great scientific thinkers of the 20th century - this is the territory of particle physics." This book peals back the layers of the atomic and sub-atomic world like an onion ready for investigation. Just for fun, look for the rest of the poem on the Internet.

Schumm says in the Introduction that his book "...represents my attempts to elucidate the currently accepted theory of particle physics...for the interested public." He goes on to say that it's not "...a story about the history of particle physics or of the lives of its protagonists. Nor is it a book of anecdotes about the culture and society..."
Deep Down is categorically non-mathematical and in the spirit of the "popular" vein but with an unusual twist.
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132 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best explanation of the Standard Model I have seen. December 9, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My background: I'm not a physicist. I do like math, but don't necessarily like a narrative flow to be interrupted by alot of math. I have read historical treatments of physics, especially the period since Maxwell. I have read several popular books relating to quantum mechanics, etc.

My problem: I have been frustrated by the absence of a book which can pull everything together and make the details of the Standard Model understandable and enjoyable to read about.

This book's triumph: it has replaced that absence with an excellent presence! This book is extremely lucid, appears to be rigorous (I am not qualified to judge), and goes into far more detail than any other popular treatment I have read or heard about. I really do feel as though a fog is lifting.

I am now on about page 115 (there are about 350 pages of narrative; plus a brief appendix regarding scientific notation; and notes, sometimes humorous but usually serious and helpful, keyed to certain passages of the text; the index appears to be completely adequate).

The chapter titles are:

1. Introduction

2. The True Movers and Shakers: The Forces of Nature

3. The Great Reawakening: The Modern Physics Revolution

4. The Marriage of Relativity & Quantum Theory: Relativistic

Quantum Field Theory

5. Patterns in Nature: The Fundamental Building Blocks

6. Mathematical Patterns: Lie Groups

7. The World Within: Internal Symmetries

8. Physics By Pure Thought: Gauge Theory

9. The Current Paradigm: Hidden Symmetry, The Standard Model &

the Higgs Boson

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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bottom line: Buy it.

If you are tired of books that throw out words like "symmetry" and "gauge theory" without ever explaining (at least conceptually) what these terms mean and how these concepts relate to a deep understanding of particle physics then this is the book to buy.

The author explains the mathematical concepts quite simply and in such a way that if you can read ANY popular book on physics then you can understand how Lie Algebras and Gauge Theories help derive the eightfold way, the charges on some bosons, the probability of the Higgs field/particle, and therefore lead to the Standard Model of particle physics.

Imagine a book which covers these topics (Lie Groups, Lie Algebras and Gauge Theories) without ever seeming mathematically challenging or complex. Here it is.

My only disappointed? It doesn't cover more, because this is the best exposition -- real teaching at a world class level -- of the subjects it does cover. If Schumm ever writes another book I will buy it, sight unseen.

If you have read, or wanted to read "The Road to Reality" by Penrose (which I highly recommend if you have the determination to read it), this will make several sections of that book much easier to understand -- were all of Penrose's explanations as high quality as "Deep Down Things" there would likely never be a better book on these subjects.

For anyone considering this book, the answer is simple: buy it and enjoy reading it.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating March 31, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With the large number of 'over-the-top' accounts of modern physics available on the bookshelves it is quite refreshing to see an author give an account of the concepts behind High Energy Physics without diverging from known facts and speculating about esoteric ideas such as parallel worlds and the like.

Schumm does an outstanding job of making the complex ideas surrounding the standard model of particle physics accessible to the average lay reader. It is hard to recall another work that presented such abstract mathematical concepts as Lie Groups and Gauge Symmetry in a way that is comprehensible to a reader who possesses no prior knowledge of the subjects. The author presents the reader with just enough of the informal concepts necessary to understand how the patterns observed in nature correlate to and can be derived from the patterns observed in the mathematical structures.

The first few chapters are devoted to the basic principles of modern physics that are necessary to understand the eventual framework on which the laws governing the world of elementary particles are built. Schumm presents the subjects in an informal and non-technical manner but does so in a way that hints at the underlying mathematical relationships. The author then gives an account of the complex array of objects in the 'particle zoo' that are known to exist directly through experiment or are theorized to exist based on inductive inference. Due to the sheer number of inhabitants of this zoo an author could quickly lose the interest of the reader with a tedious and matter-of-fact presentation of the subject. Schumm manages to remain informative while keeping the reader engaged and interested.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Hit my sweet spot, maybe it'll hit yours
Everybody interested in difficult science (w/o heavy math) looks for their sweet spot in a book. Personally, this hit mine...after years of searching. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Robert Reilly
5.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written
This book takes effort to read, and requires patience for those unfamiliar with the math concepts developed, especially Lie group theory and its linkage to the physics of gauge... Read more
Published 24 days ago by Ron Welch
5.0 out of 5 stars It gets better with age!
I first read this book shortly after it was published, and enjoyed it immensely despite needing to grapple with what were some challenging concepts for me at the time. Read more
Published 5 months ago by John
4.0 out of 5 stars Whoa
Complicated and complex. I may understand it one day but I am just not there yet. The author has wrote a great book about a veey confusing subject and I will reread it once U... Read more
Published 6 months ago by oxygenelmo
5.0 out of 5 stars It's "breathtaking" how this book was written for most of us to...
A joy to read. Finally, an author who respects the rights of a reader who is not a Math or Physics Major.
Published 9 months ago by Amazonhappy
4.0 out of 5 stars An enlightening explanation of sub-atomic particle physics
This text does well at explaining how the laws of sub-atomic physics are governed by various laws of conservation, which, in turn, are reflected in particular symmetries. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Lawrence Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Strong
Schumm spent four years working on his examples and metaphors to try and make Quantum Mechanics understandable to a lay audience. I haven't seen anything better.
Published 14 months ago by William J. Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!
If you are not a physicist and you do want a deep understanding of the standard model of quantum mechanics, read this book. Read more
Published 15 months ago by uslex
5.0 out of 5 stars Best advanced popular physics book
Physicists writing popular non-math books about advanced topics are so common that they all tend to be alike, telling personal stories and the same history. Read more
Published 16 months ago by K. Arbuckle
1.0 out of 5 stars Fine if you have advanced maths skills, to at least second-year...
As an interested layperson, I have read three books on particle physics/quantum mechanics/weird stuff: Lisa Randall's "Warped Passages", Robert Oetner's "The Theory of... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Dr Garry
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