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Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science Hardcover – November 2, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0465019472 ISBN-10: 0465019471 Edition: First Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What gives objects mass? Guardian science correspondent Sample explains the current theory behind this tantalizing question, a theory based on a mysterious, fundamental particle called the Higgs boson, which cannot be broken down into smaller particles and imbued matter with mass right after the Big Bang. The theory, developed by Peter Higgs in 1964, was elegant and neatly filled in a hole in the list of elementary particles--but the Higgs boson could only be found with particle accelerators much more powerful than those then in existence. Physicists in Europe and the U.S. dueled to build such an accelerator but have yet to isolate the Higgs boson. Inconsistent funding, some name-calling, wild publicity over the possibility of a superpowerful accelerator turning into a "doomsday machine," expensive lab accidents and acts of sabotage create a roller-coaster of a tale. Sample keeps the physics accessible, but the real pleasure is in the personalities and drama he reveals behind the hunt for one of the most elusive objects in the universe. (Nov.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Graham Farmelo, Guardian (London)
“[Peter] Higgs himself has proved almost as elusive as his eponymous particle. Until now. Ian Sample.... persevered long enough to secure an interview with him, and the results are among the highlights of Massive, a lively account of the genesis of both the LHC and its most famous particulate quarry....Sample has interviewed quite a few other leading scientists, too, and proves adept at prising insights from them....We are kept hooked by its fine reportage, which makes clear the sheer achievement of the scientists and engineers who have built the LHC, the most complex machine ever made in the service of pure science. We learn, too, of the many theoretical concepts that will be probed by it.”

Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here
“When the Higgs boson is discovered, it will be front page news, and this is the book that sets the stage.  Ian Sample mixes cutting-edge science with behind-the-scenes stories to paint a compelling picture of one of modern science’s greatest quests.”
“Sample describes the competition and politics behind the experiments that have sought the eponymous boson. . . . He relates amusing anecdotes… [and] spins a good yarn…  To get a sense of the sociology and politics of high-energy physics, Massive is a good place to start.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Lively popular account of late-20th-century physics, physicists and their machines. . . . Quality science journalism.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] roller-coaster of a tale. Sample keeps the physics accessible, but the real pleasure is in the personalities and drama he reveals behind the hunt for one of the most elusive objects in the universe.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Lively popular account of late-20th-century physics, physicists and their machines. . . . Quality science journalism."
Wall Street Journal
“Ian Sample… shows a keen eye for the personal equation even while narrating large swatches of physics history. . . . Mr. Sample’s exciting, easy-to-read narrative captures the collaboration, and competition, among the theorists who became involved in the search [for the Higgs particle] over the decades.”
Physics World
“The grand narrative in Ian Sample's book sweeps from the earliest speculations on the nature of matter; through the Second World War and the dawn of nuclear weapons; the paranoia of the Cold War (during which science was seen as a source of national security); rival efforts by the US and Europe to lead the world in times of peace; and the eventual emergence of worldwide scientific co-operation. . . .  Massive carries the reader through the epic using individual episodes from the lives of some of the participants.”
New York Journal of Books
Massive is a tale of search and of discovery, of the hunt for a particle of high mass and very short lifespan called the Higgs Boson. . . . Go. Read. Enjoy.”
Jo Marchant, author of Decoding the Heavens
“[Massive] weaves the physics into a compelling human story; it's a science book that reads like a novel… [and] the best discussion I've read of what it will mean if they do finally manage to make the Higgs boson, and what finding it might tell us about the nature of the universe.”
“A whirlwind tour of the discoveries that first revealed the subatomic world. . . . Like any good book, the excitement in Massive builds, culminating with the frenzied Higgs hunt at the end of LEP's run and more recently at the Tevatron at Fermilab in the US - both racing against time to bag the revered particle.”
Stephen Curry, Reciprocal Space Blog on
“[An] entertaining and breathless read: Sample whizzes through the story, tracking the progress from Higgs' first inkling of an idea back in the early sixties right up to the present day, which sees the particle physics community poised on the verge of discovery, waiting to see if the Higgs' boson—the eponymous 'God particle'—will finally flash into existence as the LHC is ramped up to full power.”
Dara O’Briain, New Scientist
“[T]his was my holiday page-turner: a clear and engrossing description of the physics of the Higgs boson (with surrounding weirdness), combined with a breathless account of the leap-frogging race for its discovery.”
The Midwest Book Review
The definition of the Higgs boson and how it gives everything mass, and why it's important, comes alive for readers with little prior science background. Recommended for general-interest and science collections alike!”
The Guardian (UK)
“Sample's story of “how the universe got its mass” is told through the life and science of Higgs.  The result is a compelling work of popular science, full of mind-boggling ideas and a real sense of the excitement of scientific discovery.”
“Science journalist Sample does an excellent job of capturing the history of the subject and the vivid personalities of some of the most famous living physicists. . . . Massive is an excellent nontechnical introduction to the history of modern particle physics right up to the present… Highly recommended.”


Physics Today
“A quick and enticing read…Massive provides an accessible introduction to the physics of this, the LHC era.”
The Guardian
“A gripping account of… the story of how the [Higgs boson] theory, first proposed in 1964, moved from being a curiosity of dubious relevance to the centre stage of fundamental physics today. . . . So read this book, then watch the final stages of this particular scientific quest play out over the coming months and years.”
Ruth Francis, Head of Press, Nature
“Ian Sample had unrivalled access to the players in the hunt for the Higgs boson and recounts a gripping tale, littered with intimate insights into the participants. . . . Massive is a page turner, at times thoroughly absorbing, and I challenge any reader not to be captivated by the ongoing hunt for the Higgs as it unravels.”



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465019471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019472
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,143,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

A great book that is informative, entertaining and insightful.
Donald Murphy
The problem is that the generation of particles like the Higgs is a very low-probability event and is usually only a side-product of some other primary event.
Ash Jogalekar
The author's writing style is clear, friendly, lively, and quite captivating.
G. Poirier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Ash Jogalekar VINE VOICE on November 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Mr. Hunter, we have rules that are not open to interpretation, personal intuition, gut feelings, hairs on the back of your neck, little devils or angels sitting on your shoulder...." - Capt. Ramsey ('Crimson Tide')

Particle physicists hunting for maddeningly elusive particles sometimes must feel like Mr. Hunter from the movie "Crimson Tide". The quarries which they are trying to mine seem so ephemeral, making their presence known in events with such slim probability margins, victims of nature's capricious dance of energy and matter, that intuition must sometimes seem as important as data. The hunt for such particles signifies some of the most intense efforts in extruding reality from nature's womb that human beings have ever put in.

No other particle exemplifies this uniquely human of all endeavors than the so-called Higgs boson. The man who bears the burden of imparting it its name is now a household name himself. Yet as the history of science often demonstrates, the real story is both more interesting and more complicated. It involves intense competition involving billions of dollars and thousands of careers of a kind rarely seen in science, and stories of glories and follies befitting the great tragedies. In his book "Massive", Ian Sample does a marvelous job of bringing this history to life.

Sample excels at three things. The first is the story of the two great laboratories that have mainly been involved in the race to the finish in discovering nature's building blocks- Fermilab and CERN. CERN was started in the 60s to give a boost to European physics after World War 2.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Larry on November 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book on a timely topic that is hard to write for general public. If you are looking for a book to explain what all the fuss is over the "God Particle" this is the one to read. Dr. Sample does a great job of bringing together the history, theory, and experimental aspects of the mass mechanism for everyone to understand. Everyone reads about the LHC and finding the "Higgs Boson" but little is written about the history and how this came to be.

It is a quick read and flows well with antidotes about the people involved that are pulled out through extensive interviews and research. Certainly there will be an updated version of this once the results are confirmed from Fermi or LHC and Nobels are awarded - along with the associated controversies.

Strengths of the book include:
1) Well written and easy to read
2) Quick read
3) Handles tough topic for non-physicist
4) Sets up well for next edition
5) Well researched with great interviews of subjects (Weinberg for example)

While the book is very Peter Higgs' centric in chapters three and four that probably makes sense given the name of the boson and need for the story to focus on someone. The years that Higgs spend after the 1964 papers toiling with an extension and defending the findings were interesting while the other theorists moved on to other work in the USA and Belgium. Higgs was not actually the first to work on this since Guralnik and Hagen were working with Gilbert on the issue well before 1964. But overall the book is a great overview of the theory work that is not often shared.

I am looking forward to how the story ends outside of the book, the USA edition, and the certain versions from Dr. Sample that will follow.

Great book. Great effort.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J. Brian Watkins VINE VOICE on October 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perhaps the scientists aren't yet convinced that the Higgs boson exists, but the publishing world has no doubts. Massive is yet another entry in an increasingly crowded shelf of general science offerings devoted to explaining to those of us who couldn't finish Calculus precisely why billions of dollars and hundreds (thousands?) of scientific careers are being devoted to a single machine. Pity the author who must devote over half of his book to explaining background; however, Dr. Sample's talents are admirably suited to the task. He has the reporter's instinct for a good story and the dry wit to spice up a tale that in the wrong hands could take one back to a tedious high school science lecture--anyone? anyone?

In a field populated by authors who are explicating their own discoveries, Dr. Sample brings the unique perspective of a real journalist. Avoiding an overly detailed recitation, Dr. Sample brings a refreshing brevity to the tale. He manages to find the examples of human frustration, pique and ambition that make any story worth reading. But, that aside, I felt the first glimmer of understanding of what Dr. Higgs actually figured out. Sure, I may be more dim than the average reviewer, but I have read several books on the recent developments in particle physics (general offerings all) and the opening chapters of this book were the best at explaining the nature of the question, i.e. where does mass come from. This is also the only offering, thus far, that lends an entire chapter to the media-fueled hype over the issue of the dangers presented by high-energy colliders, which provides a fine commentary on the state of modern science education and societal tolerance for pure research.
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