on 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. This is not a superficial pop-science "gee-wiz" book. At the risk of losing some less than serious lay readers, Schumm has wisely sprinkled some important formulas throughout the book and he effectively shows why they are significant. You don't have to be able to see or do the "proofs" in the equations, just the important concepts behind them. Chapter 1 serves as the Introduction and Chapter 2 is a quick account of the four fundamental forces of Nature as by described by the Standard Model. Chapter 3 covers Planck's constant and the revolutionary discovery of quantization, Einstein's Relativity, Wave-Particle Duality (ala de Broglie's matter waves), Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle, and finally Schrodinger's time-independent equation are all brought to light. The book has many diagrams to graphically illustrate various concepts and also a nice Notes section to elaborate on technical details. Chapter 4 "The marriage of Relativity & Quantum Theory" (one of my favorite chapters) is all about Relativistic QFT, Feynman diagrams of fundamental interactions, bosons, antimatter, spin, the virtually active vacuum (Casimir's effect) and ends with a nice treatment of QED. Chapter 5 is about the fundamental building blocks known as the Standard Model: Quarks, Leptons, Bosons, and Fermions & the "particle zoo".
The remaining half of the book (chapters 6 though 10) is my favorite. Here Schumm takes me where I've always wanted to go - right into the heart & depth of the symmetries & abstractions that have only been hinted at in other books. Here, Schumm offers a serious & stimulating challenge for this physics lay-enthusiast. I'm happily compelled to re-read major sections of the book that are indeed deep & abstract - trying to get my mind wrapped around the concepts of SU(2) & SU(3) Lie Algebras, hypercharge, and internal symmetry spaces in gauge theories. I've seen this stuff before in many other popular books but they're usually dumbed down too far with vague or loose analogies (I can't help but feel like some authors are being forced to be less than forthcoming). Some of us don't flee in a blind/frightened panic over alien & abstract mathematical concepts of internal spaces so long as we're not hit with the double barrel of imposing mathematical rigor & proof. You see, I strongly suspect that the majority of popular physics readers are simply interested in sensationalized subjects like Superstring & Theory of Everything stuff - this is what sells in the minds of most publishers after all. So, I appreciate the (too) few authors & publishers that go out on a limb for those of us who're starving for real meat (less the Graduate level rigor however). Incidentally take a peek at Vincint Icke's book: The Force of Symmetry. You'll see a unique approach to fascinating and abstract world of fundamental physics there as well.
One can't help but suspect that there's something to the exquisitely beautiful patterns in the abstract mathematical spaces and Lie groups the author is trying to teach us here. Correspondence between rotation groups in two real dimensions R(2) and those in the complex plane U(1) are presented accessibly. He brings us through Lie Algebras: R(3), U(1), SU(2), & SU(3) and Gauge Theories; spin projections, complex rotations (imaginary numbers) and symmetry transformation operations in Isospin space.
I love this stuff and only wish I had cultivated a discipline of mathematical studies as a young man so that I could fully appreciate the beauty and utility of these methods of understanding the crown achievement of human intellect. In any event, I believe Deep Down Things is written with someone like me in mind (the author agrees) and I hope you find your interest in it as well.
on December 9, 2004
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:
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
10. Into the Unknown: What Lies Ahead
This book is a non-mathematical treatment of the subject and it is not too hard for the layman. It does offer a satisfying level of detail and explains matters (no pun intended) in a clear and enjoyable fashion. I will repeat myself and say that it is the best book on its topic that I have ever seen.
on May 1, 2006
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.
on March 31, 2006
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.
A large portion of the book is devoted to the presentation of the underlying concepts behind groups, symmetry, and gauge theory. The author sums it all up into one cohesive package by putting all the pieces together and presents the theory known as the Standard Model of particle physics.
Due to the experimental limitations inherent in this field of study scientists have had to rely more heavily on theory than they have in the past when forming a paradigm. In the absence of physical evidence it would become tempting for some to infer the nature of the reality underlying the phenomenon based solely on mathematical inferences and conjectures(String Theory). When this happens science loses it's identity and simply becomes another branch of mathematics. Science is an empirical undertaking and theory and mathematics will always be a means to an end. In the scientific enterprise theoretical reasoning is always subservient to observation. The ultimate litmus test of any theory is always experimentation. Schumm makes this perfectly clear.
There are hopes that the opening of the LHC in 2006 will provide more insights and perhaps verify the existence of the so far elusive Higgs Boson which is pivotal in the Standard Model. However, as with all other periods in this relatively young field it would be a surprise if what comes out of the LHC does not raise as many questions as it answers. Every time an advancement is made in accelerator technology something always seems to come out of the woodwork that throws everyone for a loop.
The author concludes by taking note of the fact that experimental efforts to dig further down towards the Planck scale will eventually reach an insurmountable technological hurdle and will ultimately come to an end. What makes the subject so fascinating, however is the journey itself and not so much the destination. If all the questions were firmly answered it would be a rather boring undertaking and would fail to hold our attention for long. Its hard to get excited about a mystery novel when you already know 'who done it'.
If you want to read a sensationalist account about what happens when Schrodinger's cat falls into a wormhole then this book will be a disappointment. Everyone else will most likely find this account of the Standard Model highly engrossing. A work like this was long overdue and it is comforting to know there are scientist-authors who feel they can stick to the known facts without having to appeal to tales of parallel worlds and other speculative oddities to keep the lay public interested. The facts themselves are odd enough to be entertaining.
on May 11, 2005
This is a magnificent book. Indeed, I would say this is, bar none, the absolute best layman's book on the Standard Model of modern physics. If you have enjoyed other books such as Leon Lederman's "The God Particle" or, more recently, Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe," then you will probably enjoy this book.
This very readable, highly understandable tome discusses the mathematical underpinnings of physicists' current functional and tested model of how the universe is constructed and works, save for gravity. It does so in the context of symmetry groups (in particular Lie groups) and how these basic mathematical concepts add up, almost miraculously, to a straightforward model of matter, energy, and how they interact.
I have, over the years, read quite a few technical books on quantum mechanics and mathematical physics. Until reading this book, however, I did not appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the group-theoretic underpinnings. Indeed, it could be argued that I did not understand group theory at all, but reading Penrose's recent "The Road to Reality" actually helped quite a bit in that regard as well.
I cannot say enough good about this book - read it, you won't be disappointed. IndiAndy has a good, more detailed review, so I won't repeat much of what he says.
Another book I recommend is Watson's "The Quantum Quark" which is primarily concerned with QCD (one part of the Standard Model). This other book delves more deeply into that one subject, and is a nice compliment, although of course there is some overlap.
Thank you to my brother-in-law Mark, now serving in Iraq, for giving me this book this past Christmas.
on December 12, 2004
For those of us lay people who have wandered from book to book and picked up bits and pieces of math and physics over the years finally comes a book that knits together the role of groups and physics. And in doing so once again highlights the profoundly beautiful notion of symmetry. I was hooked after the first page and read it through in a few days. Why someone has not written this book before I'll never know. Any one who has read any of the many laymens texts on particle physics has heard the words group,lie algebra,ect but they all stopped short there, probably for fear of scaring off the reader. Dr. Schumm has shown that these concepts can indeed be accessible to the general reader.The notion of the Lie group is clearly explained as is renomalization. And the real pearl comes with the explanation of the connection between group generators and gauge bosons. This just wets the appetite for another book pulling even more threads together. Thanks again ,Dr.Schuum.
on October 4, 2005
Bruce Schumm comes across as a very nice man who has taken an original approach to do something extremely difficult. He has written an understandable explanation of some arcane but important theoretical physics. The eight reviews already written here will give you a good idea of what the book is about, so I will not repeat any of that but simply add a few comments.
To begin with, this is not a book intended as many are for the "intelligent layman". While there is almost no explicit mathematics, the level of sophistication is nevertheles very high, so that some background in physics and mathematics is necessary. On the other hand, the technical expertise that is needed in order to tackle an advanced textbook like Weinberg's "The Quantum Theory of Fields" is thankfully not required. So how does Schumm handle the problem of avoiding the mathematics? He does it by describing the derivations in words, using simple diagrams and some hand-waving to arrive at the results. I have never seen this done with the very advanced mathematics such as Lie groups and gauge theory that is involved here, yet Schumm succeeds splendidly and for this alone his book deserves all the praise it has already received. I learned a lot from this book and the theory is for the most part breathtakingly beautiful as he claims. The only exception in my opinion occurs at the end where he describes the Higgs boson explanation of the origin of mass. It is partly that his explanation is hard to follow. For example, the concept of hidden symmetry is explained using an elaborate analogy involving jogging shoes that left me confused. But it may also be that the Higgs theory is quite unconvincing. It seems to involve a number of ad-hoc assumptions stitched together in a way that lacks elegance. I share Einstein's view that a physical theory should be simple and elegant and the Higgs model does not seem to meet that test. Still, what do I know. The Higgs boson, it it exists, should be found in a few years and perhaps then Schumm might consider rewriting his explanation. Personally, I hope it is never found!
on September 16, 2005
I am going to have to read this book again, as probably everybody else will who tackles it, but it's exactly the kind of book that fills the vast void between introductory popular physics books for those who are just starting to explore this fascinating field (e.g. John Gribbon's books and the like) and the graduate school texts crammed with equations and obscurities far beyond the limited capacity of my modest brain.
Yes, the book does have a few equations, although the author doesn't expect us to solve them, and does deal with some of the astounding correspondences between purely abstract theoretical mathematics and the very real, albeit weird, universe we inhabit.
But it hits its intended niche perfectly. It takes us beyond the umpteenth description of the double slit experiment (if you don't know what that is, you're not ready for this one) into Lie groups, guage theories, and Noether's discovery of the deep connection between symmetry and conservation laws, in a far more sophisticated, clear, and understandable way than we have any right to expect.
In short, a wonderful book.
on March 9, 2006
Seduced by the glowing reviews of this new book by UC Santa Cruz physicist Bruce Schumm and, curious over the fact that the book devotes almost 80 pages to an elementary elucidation of gauge theory (my favorite physics topic), I bought the thing from Amazon and read it.
First off, the book is pretty much aimed at the motivated lay reader who wants to understand the non-mathematical particulars of the Standard Model of the electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces (Schumm wisely left gravity out of the loop because it's clearly beyond the scope of a book of this kind). The book includes rather extensive, if elementary, expositions on topics such as Lie groups and Lie algebra, SU(2) and SU(3) isospin and hypercharge symmetries, the weak interaction and the quark model, and by book's end I had regained much of what I invariably tend to forget about this stuff.
However, the book is inconsistent at the level with which it treats (or should treat) complex numbers, quantum mechanical phase invariance, and related topics. For example, Schumm writes down Schrodinger's one-dimensional wave equation on several occasions, explaining what all the parts represent, but then he doesn't feel that the reader is quite up to understanding the exponential version of complex numbers (known as Euler's relation). This extends to his description of phase invariance, in which nary an exponential appears in the book. This is a shame, because anyone who has even a smidgen of knowledge about z = a + ib knows that the exponential form, which is ubiquitous in quantum mechanics, is easier to use and more intuitive. You just cannot explain to someone what a unitary operator is without it.
As a direct result, Schumm's description of gauge invariance, the brainchild of the great German mathematical physicist Hermann Weyl, is rather inaccessible and muddled. The idea of gauge symmetry (perhaps the most profound aspect of quantum theory) is easy to understand, but not if you leave the basic math out of the discussion.
The book's last chapter, Into the Unknown, discusses a few advanced topics, along with the Higgs field and physicists' hopes to discover it with the European Large Hadron Collider (scheduled to go into operation in 2007). And while Schumm plays down the role of gravity in all this, he hints at the possibility that a unified theory of all four forces will radically change the way we think of everything.
Schumm's book could have been better but, as an understandable, relatively elementary, up-to-date exposition of the Standard Model, it's hard to beat.
on March 26, 2006
This book contains probably the best description of the Standard Model that I have read. It has a lot of non-trivial information. I appreciated specially the clear explanation of the theory's own limits. The author does not try to have an explanation for everything and ignores many promising but unproved theories.
The main difference between this book and other similar books, in my opinion, is the depth of the explanations devoted to the weak force, usually forgotten in most of the books aimed at common (non-professional) readers. I really did not suspect that I was missing so much relevant information until I have read this book. As it is stated in another review, it compels the reader to go further.