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Nothing: A Very Short Introduction [Paperback]

Frank Close
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 26, 2009 0199225869 978-0199225866
This short, smart book tells you everything you need to know about "nothing." What remains when you take all the matter away? Can empty space--"nothing"--exist? To answer these questions, eminent scientist Frank Close takes us on a lively and accessible journey that ranges from ancient ideas and cultural superstitions to the frontiers of current research, illuminating the story of how scientists have explored the void and the rich discoveries they have made there. Readers will find an enlightening history of the vacuum: how the efforts to make a better vacuum led to the discovery of the electron; the ideas of Newton, Mach, and Einstein on the nature of space and time; the mysterious aether and how Einstein did away with it; and the latest ideas that the vacuum is filled with the Higgs field. The story ranges from the absolute zero of temperature and the seething vacuum of virtual particles and anti-particles that fills space, to the extreme heat and energy of the early universe.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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Editorial Reviews


`Review from previous edition: All in all, this book makes for some fascinating reading.' Chemistry World, Dennis Rouvray.

`An accessible and entertaining read for layperson and scientist alike.' Physics World

`The Void is well worth reading.' Robert Cailliau. CERN Courier.

`It covers very complicated concepts in a mostly accessible way.' Lawrence Rudnick, Nature

`A fascinating subject covered by a fascinating book.' Marcus Chown, Focus

About the Author

Frank Close, OBE, is Professor of Physics at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College and was formerly vice president of the British Association for Advancement of Science.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199225869
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199225866
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
93 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There is a lot to be said about Nothing August 4, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Nothing" seems to be the simplest of all notions, apparently requiring no thought whatsoever. It is what remains where everything is taken away. But a closer scrutiny reveals that "nothing" is not trivial as it may first seem. Is it physically possible to achieve such a thing as the absence of all matter? Even if possible, is what remains a truly empty space? And what is space anyway - is it possible to talk about it in the absence of matter? It is these and related questions that this short book tries to answer. It takes the reader on a journey from philosophical and speculative ideas of classic antiquity, to the most advanced frontiers of modern theoretical and experimental Physics. For a book of its size it covers a lot of ground. It explains where the notion that "the nature abhors vacuum" comes from, and how it took almost two thousand years to refute it by actually creating the first known artificial vacuum. The book explains how the ideas about the vacuum have evolved over the centuries, and in particular what an effect the discoveries of quantum mechanics and general relativity have had on it. Today we believe that even the perfect vacuum is strictly speaking not completely empty, and it is a rather complicated and complex entity. The book concludes with some of the current Physics speculations and how they may pertain to our ideas about "nothing."

The book is written in an interesting and easy-flowing style, and it does not overwhelm the reader with technical details and arcane jargon. There are hardly any equations in it, and the ones that are present are straightforward and used in order to illustrate a point that otherwise would be too cumbersome to describe. Overall, this is a very good book with a fresh and engaging perspective.
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to read about here... January 30, 2010
"Why are there beings rather than nothing?" This seemingly futile question has plagued everyone from philosophers, scientists and anyone who has stopped to reflect on our bizarre existence. Such reflection usually leads to a thought about the state of "nothing." And then the inevitable contradictory questions flow, such as "what would exist if there were nothing?" or "would something need to exist to verify that nothing exists?" And the neurons flap on and on until exhaustion or insanity set in. Apparently, the void sits on the edge of human cognition. Our moist brains have problems going there without falling into slippery logical contradictions. But why rely on logic for such questions? Why keep banging our heads against empty formalism? Frank Close's little dense book "Nothing: A Very Short Introduction" takes off with this very idea. After discussing his own personal confrontation with the void, the book shifts drastically from the philosophical to the scientific. A short history of the void/vacuum science follows, including Toricelli's 1643 experiment that created a vacuum, the Magdeburg Hemispheres that demonstrated the power of atmospheric pressure, and Pascal's trials with water and wine. People were finally creating and experimenting with, seemingly, "nothing." Scientific method, in contrast to pure reason, was able to make something of the void. But was the void really nothing?

To explore this question, the book embarks on a breakneck tour of the history of science. Though it seems to veer from the void in many places, it always returns to nothing. Those familiar with the basic history of Newtonian Mechanics, Relativity and Quantum physics will likely trod familiar territory.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Close observations of nothing will make you think October 3, 2009
Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
If you are at all scientifically curious this little volume should be a pleasure to read, especially if you know you are not going to be tested on it. Frank Close presents complex subject matter in a manner that is understandable even if you don't have a physics degree. But "Very Short Introduction" does not mean superficial -- the concepts it deals with are quite dense after all.

It is mostly about particle physics and cosmology. Close constructs accessible explanations of, for example, the composition and behavior of atoms and sub-atomic particles, relativity, quantum theory, the Big Bang, and the theory of Higgs bosons.

His unifying theme involves the Aristotelian idea that nature abhors a vacuum, a notion that was not over-turned (seemingly) until the seventeenth century. But it turns out that something is there after all, that all space is filled with energy.

Close renders the material (and energy) comprehensible through clear prose, reconstruction of helpful "thought experiments," enlightening metaphors, and a limited number of pictorial illustrations. For instance, he offers a graphic "mental model" of the uncertainty principle, one which I found very helpful. Yet he never lets the reader off the hook -- you will be required to think throughout.

This is publication number 205 in the Oxford "Very Short Introductions" series, which covers all manner of subjects. It is small and conveniently portable, but not unduly skimpy (I estimate about 43,000 words). An index makes it potentially useful as a reference book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insightful coverage
Mr. Close makes his case in a very detailed manner that is equally easy to follow. A difficult subject made less so.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Good short introducton
"Nothing" is a malapropism title for this book. We think of the vacuum of space as being nothing; but this is not quite right. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Gary J. Banuk
4.0 out of 5 stars Voila!
Very clear info on a very cloudy subject! Leads on to more reading on the physics frontier.Read this book asap!
Published 5 months ago by Paul McKenna
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not Great
I was really excited about reading this book, I thought it might be more like Seinfeld kind of Nothing - in a philosophical sense. I didn't realize it would be so physics. Read more
Published 5 months ago by ahalilov
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a science guy but I enjoyed this little book
This is my 10th or 11th VSI, and I have thoroughly enjoyed each. I was expecting something a little more theoretical or philosophical, but Frank Close's ability to adeptly explain... Read more
Published 6 months ago by J. Greco
4.0 out of 5 stars A Decent Introduction to the Quantum World
I have read a few books which deal with quantum particles. I found this short treatment to be a fair introduction to the subject. Read more
Published 9 months ago by D. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
I was attracted by the title but actually had no idea what the book could be about. I have been pleasantly astonished by the fluid narration about harsh physical concepts leading... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Raphael
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Well-written
Covers the topics that I was interested in reading about.
This book appears to be an original work by the author, although there may be
other similar titles.
Published 10 months ago by Lloyd Rice
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Interesting & Challenging Read for Inquisitive Minds"
"Nothing" - A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close, 2009. Oxford University Press, NY. ISBN 978-0-19-922586-6, SC 158 Pgs. in 6 7/8" x 4 3/8" format that includes 7 Pg. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Russell A. Rohde MD
5.0 out of 5 stars Briefly, the Big Picture
Frank Close does a great job of putting into laymen's terms as much as he can to help us get a glimpse of where we (as in EVERYTHING) came from. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Wandering Pilot in Seattle
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