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Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys And a Trip to Stockholm Paperback – March 13, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-9812566553 ISBN-10: 9812566554 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 532 pages
  • Publisher: World Scientific Publishing Company; 1 edition (March 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9812566554
  • ISBN-13: 978-9812566553
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #748,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


... a feast of continual surprise and insight from a mischievous physics mensch who always has a twinkle in his eye ... -- K C Cole, Award-winning author and science journalist, and currently Professor of Journalism at the Annenberg School of Communications University of Southern California

Fantastic Realities is a gem, offering sophisticated aficionados as well as professional scientists a wealth of subtle insights. -- Brian Greene, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Columbia University and bestselling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos

This collection of essays opens to all readers the opportunity to experience Frank's playful yet profound approach to reality. -- Lawrence M Krauss, Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Case Western Reserve University, and bestselling author of The Physics of Star Trek


Frank Wilczek's Fantastic Realities is a gem, offering sophisticated aficionados as well as professional scientists a wealth of subtle insights gleaned from the author's relentless engagement with workings of nature. Wilczek is rightly hailed as one of the most accomplished physicists of our age. With this collection, he proves himself one of its most penetrating scientific interpreters as well. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 6 customer reviews
This is a wonderfully thought provoking book.
Peter Goreau
Since the articles compiled in this book were originally written for different audiences and occasions, sometimes information is repeated in different essays.
A. Panda
Wilczek brings in interesting historical context to most of the things he writes about, often in an original way.
Peter Woit

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Jed E. Rose on April 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Fantastic Realities is a remarkable and engaging book, and will provide illuminating insights, whether you are an intelligent layperson seeking to improve your knowledge of the physical universe or a practicing physicist on the forefront of research. The book consists of a succession of bite-sized articles, containing pearls of encapsulated wisdom. Two of the most lustrous of these, in my opinion, included 1) an amazingly lucid and simple derivation of the Dirac equation of relativistic quantum mechanics, and 2) an explanation of the origin of the proton's mass. There are actually very few equations contained within this book, but it is by no means as "watered-down" as many popularized books on science. On the contrary, Dr. Wilczek gives you a glimpse of the current thinking in the field, where the concepts are not elementary (even if the fundamental particles are!). Like Richard Feynman before him, Frank Wilczek not only leads you by the hand to a better grasp of ideas such as broken symmetry, but also takes you to the leading edge of theoretical physics development and shares how a Nobel prize-winning scientist thinks about problems. Even facts that one has heard many times before take on a fresh meaning, such as when he describes how the indistinguishability of electrons results from the fact that they are excitations of the same pervasive, universe-filling quantum field. Throughout, Wilczek vividly conveys his appreciation for the grandeur and beauty of our universe. He also sprinkles witticisms and anecdotes (including an interesting one relating a discussion with Feynman) throughout the book, which lightens the reading and makes it entertaining as well as instructive.Read more ›
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Peter Goreau on May 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully thought provoking book.

Frank Wilczek is that rarest of breeds, a lucid physicist. Working in Feynman's tradition, i.e. raising the communication of physics into the literary canon. (Yes, this reviewer believes the Lectures on Physics should be included in the literary canon.)

Collecting a series of articles published in Physics Today's Reference Frame, Nature and other journals, Wilczek has tackled topics such as: The nature of force, The origin of mass, Einsteins Equations, Diracs Equation, Quantum Theory, QED and QCD; Subjects at the core of physics and cosmology, and, to which he has been a seminal contributor. It ends with a delightful description of winning the Physics Prize and the Nobel Awards ceremony, in the voice of Betsy Devine, of Funny Ha Ha or Funny Peculiar?

These discussions, crafted in a clear manner, are reminiscent of the elegance of the physics itself, an elegance often unrecognized by those who don't appreciate mathematical subtlety or it's inherent beauty. In this, it helps to have a guide who has a deep understanding of the subject, and takes such obvious pleasure communicating it.

Another thing I love about this book? Like Feynman, Wilczek challenges the creative, artists, writers and others, to intellectually grapple with the beauty of physics, either as expressed in the gaseous giant planets or, in this case, the proton and it's extraordinary symmetries. Then? To use this understanding in their own work.

As a poet, I am particularily delighted with the poems included in this volume. Since Lucretius, using poetry to elucidate physics has been severely lacking. We need more of this.

As an avid reader of these pieces, I have wished they were collected in one place.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Peter Woit on May 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
Frank Wilczek's new book is a great read by one of the best in the business for anyone interested in physics and should be accessible to people with a wide variety of backgrounds. The book consists of a collection of 43 short pieces, most of which have been published elsewhere (often as "Reference Frame" columns in Physics Today), broken into 11 sections, each with a short introduction. The writing is exceptionally well-informed, elegant, lucid, and thought-provoking.

There's also a section of 6 original poems, which I'll not comment on since I'm not a literary critic, as well as a final section of extracts from Wilczek's wife Betsy Devine's blog Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Peculiar?. The blog entries explain exactly what it's like to be a family member of a Nobel prize winner, and contain lots of useful tips for you and your fellow family members should you ever win a Nobel prize and need to know exactly how to prepare for your trip to Stockholm. I hope I won't be damaging sales of the book by noting that they're available on-line.

Wilczek started out his career with a bang, discovering the asymptotic freedom of Yang-Mills theory in joint work with his advisor David Gross. He was thinking of this work in terms of perhaps showing that the SU(2) part of the new electro-weak gauge theory of Weinberg and Salam might not have the same problem that QED had (effective coupling growing at short distances, invalidating perturbation theory), but Gross was thinking more about the strong interactions and the short-distance scaling behavior recently observed at SLAC. If it could be shown that Yang-Mills theories also had effective couplings that grew at short distances like all other known QFTs, that would rule out QFT as a theory of the strong interactions.
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