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Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics (Princeton Science Library) [Paperback]

A. Zee , Roger Penrose
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 19, 2007 0691134820 978-0691134826

Fearful Symmetry brings the incredible discoveries of contemporary physics within everyone's grasp. A. Zee, a distinguished physicist and skillful expositor, tells the exciting story of how today's theoretical physicists are following Einstein in their search for the beauty and simplicity of Nature. Animated by a sense of reverence and whimsy, the book describes the majestic sweep and accomplishments of twentieth-century physics. In the end, we stand in awe before the grand vision of modern physics--one of the greatest chapters in the intellectual history of humankind.


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Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics (Princeton Science Library) + Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition (In a nutshell) + Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Zee's exposition of the intuitive use by modern theoretical physicists of the concept of symmetry . . . in order to fathom nature's laws is superb scientific reading," lauded PW , warning that this is challenging material even for initiates.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The story of modern physics is the story of the triumph of reductionism. It follows that a study of symmetry (the observation that physical laws remain unchanged when action is viewed from different perspectives or transformations) is a useful way to demonstrate the development of contemporary theories like superstrings and grand unified out of the seeming chaos of the quantum world. Zee delineates classical mechanics, relativity, the quantum, and the strange new world of subatomic particles with style and wit. Nonmathematicians especially will appreciate his entirely comprehensible, virtually nonmathematical explanation of group theory. He acknowledges the philosophical implications of what has come to be called the "new" physics, but does not stray too far from his purpose. The race for unity contains an important insight: that the nature of the physical world is abstract, rather than complicateda notion with possibly vast significance for our understanding of first causes. Gloria Rohmann, Science & Technology Div., N.Y.P.L.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Science Library
  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691134820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691134826
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #241,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A group theorist's opinion October 7, 2003
Format:Paperback
I have spent most of my career studying simple groups --
finite and algebraic simple groups -- and the geometric
spaces on which they act and I have found it impossible not to be
carried away by the sheer beauty of these structures
and by the sense that they must have some reality in nature
beyond a mathematician's thoughts. This book allowed me
to have a little sense of how true this might be (far
beyond what I knew just from newspapers). As a group theorist
who has thought a lot about the same 'philosophical' issues,
I couldn't put this book down. It is full of charming stories
and good humor. In my opinion, this book is a model of good scientific writing.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gauge Symmetries for Blondes May 12, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
After buying Dr. Zee's book, I became worried that I would not be able to understand it and would thereby lose respect for my brain, one of my last bankable attributes. The book lay on the side table for a year. Finally, on a whim, I sat down to read it early in the evening-- about dinner-time. The next thing I knew, the windows were getting light and I couldn't feel my feet.
I barely made it through algebra, have no science background, and a scientist would probably tell me that I have no real business reading a book like Dr. Zee's. But his explanations create a case for a greater aesthetics that is so compelling-- a beauty not tangential or decorative, but essential to the architecture of physical reality-- that I wholeheartedly recommend his book to every thinking person I know. And that includes designers. And blondes.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Words, Words, Words ... December 27, 2009
Format:Paperback
This review must begin with a description of the context in which I encountered "Fearful Symmetry" by Anthony Zee. I'm looking for a text to help guide a course on symmetry, the basics of group theory, and the relationship of both to modern physics - all for a class of scientifically curious but mathematically challenged seniors (average age 75). I first ran across Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill's book, "Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe," which I read. However, a friend, having seen the mixed reviews of Lederman posted on Amazon, suggested the Zee book as potentially superior, which I now have read. Regrettably, I must report that compared to Lederman, Zee's book is a failure. It has three major flaws: 1) Zee continually invokes the concept of a creator seeking beauty, an aesthetically driven guiding intelligence, the designer - all concepts that have more to do with religion than with science. Besides being annoying, the implicit assertion is that theoretical physicists are now intellectually in touch with the designer, and that the pathway to that contact is through the aesthetic appeal of symmetry. While it is true that symmetry has been hugely significant in guiding the unraveling of physical theories, both past and present, it is absurd to suggest, as Zee does, some architect of the universe sitting down trying to decide which symmetry group should govern the universe. That may be what Zee thinks, or it may be a large metaphor, but it doesn't matter - it perturbs the flow of ideas. 2) And it is precisely in the flow of ideas that this book really fails. It is clear that Zee doesn't know his reader - how much basic science the reader brings to the book, and how much he or she hopes to leave with. Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful aid for the uninitiated July 11, 2012
By Robert
Format:Paperback
I was looking for a book that would help me understand the development of particle physics up to and including the recent finding of the spoor of the Higgs boson (the so-called God particle). I had gone (with difficulty) through Roger Penrose's exposition of particle physics theory in the "Road to Reality" and, with less difficulty, Peter Voit's "Not Even Wrong". The latter is a fine book but it did not make the development of various theories clear, i.e. it left me hanging as to what was actually involved in the mathematical--group theoretical--development. Zee's book cleared up all the hidden steps, and amazingly, did this without casting off a haze of equations to hide what is really happening. In short, the book is intelligible, accurate (as I'll testify, for those parts of group theory and physics with which I'm familiar) and written with grace and wit. It should be required reading--along with Rosenblum's and Kuttner's "Quantum Enigma" and Peter Voit's "Not Even Wrong"--for anyone who wants to understand contemporary physics, whatever his/her background in physics/math might be.
Let me add that my own background is in physics (56 years) and I have published papers involving quantum mechanics (density matrix theory) and group theory, and I know, from having taught graduate courses, how difficult it is to give a clear, non-formalistic picture of theory. Judging from his book, one would have to say that Zee must be a masterful teacher.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful overview of modern physics August 8, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book provides an excellent intro and overview of modern physics, from Noether's theorem to Yang-Mills theory. Most gauge theory books and quantum field theory books are highly mathematical but short on exposition. This is an ideal book to read while tackling the harder stuff like Zee's "Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell". Zee has one of the best writing styles of any hardcore physicists. Also Recommended is Kerson Huang's "Fundamental Forces of Nature".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Zee's discussion and development of the principles and importance of symmetry is well done. He manages to preserve the rigor of his analysis while simultaneously writing at a... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Asaf
4.0 out of 5 stars Fearful Symmetry in modern physics
Symmetry seems to be a mathematical need for the description of modern physics, and the news often tells of how a new discovery involves the breaking of symmetry, such as the Higgs... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Anilao diver
5.0 out of 5 stars The beauty of the universe
Professor Zee skilfully starts this book by reminding the reader the beauty of physical symmetry (i.e. in paintings, architectures, etc.). Read more
Published on May 18, 2011 by W. Cheung
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly enjoyable book about physics.
The book covers some fairly advanced concepts without leaving the reader completely lost. I am likely to reread again in the next year, to better understand some of the... Read more
Published on November 2, 2010 by Paul Brantley
4.0 out of 5 stars layperson's experience
i read zee's "fearful symmetry" with interest. i have zero math or physics background, but have always been interested in the topics addressed by zee in his book. Read more
Published on September 10, 2010 by alcibiades
4.0 out of 5 stars a lot of well presented material, some more difficult than others
This book attempts to give the reader a flavor of what ideas drive much of modern physics. In particular the search for symmetries. Read more
Published on April 7, 2010 by A. Menon
5.0 out of 5 stars Start with the basics and builds up from there
This book starts with the basic fundamentals of the science of electricity (a frogs legs twitching during a dissection) and weaves the tapestry up to subatomic particle physics and... Read more
Published on April 1, 2010 by Ben Cartwright
5.0 out of 5 stars Austere beauty - the architecture of physical reality
This book is not about symmetry of shapes. It is about a much more fundamental symmetry: the invariances observed in the most fundamental laws of physics. Read more
Published on November 24, 2008 by J. Koelman
4.0 out of 5 stars Theoretical Physics Problems in a Nutshell
Zee presents the challenges faced and already overcome by theoretical physicists in an extremely clear manner. Read more
Published on October 13, 2008 by Geoffrey Bourque
5.0 out of 5 stars Like listening to Schubert by a warm fire on a cold winter's night
Fearful Symmetry is the most soothing physics book I have ever read. Perhaps soothing is a strange word, but by analogy, reading Feynman is like riding a race horse, while reading... Read more
Published on September 16, 2008 by MDK
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