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95 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There is a lot to be said about Nothing
"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...
Published on August 4, 2009 by Dr. Bojan Tunguz

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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short, yes. Apropos, no.
I don't recommend this book for three reasons: (1) The writing style is ponderous and often unclear; I found myself many times having to reread a sentence just to understand the author's intended meaning, let alone the complex associated concept. (2) The majority of the book is a history of physicists and their discoveries, which is reasonably well presented if you don't...
Published on December 18, 2011 by envirogeek


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95 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There is a lot to be said about Nothing, August 4, 2009
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This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
"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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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to read about here..., January 30, 2010
This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
"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. But those who don't know about the innards of an atom, the architecture of magnetic and electromagnetic fields, the inverse square law, the historic controversy over the ether, curved space time, the expanding universe, quantum uncertainty, pair creation, the Higgs vacuum, or just what that Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is supposed to discover, will learn enough to say that a new conceptual world has opened. One of the more interesting ideas discussed involves the self-sustaining universe, in that the majority of the universe may only need a speck of energy (a gigantic quantum fluctuation) to exist nearly forever. The book's final chapter "the new void" once again waxes philosophic, but this time with 300 some years of science supporting the speculations. He begins: "Everything came from nothing" and "Modern physics suggests that it is possible that the universe could have emerged out of the vaccuum." We may originate solely from an eruption from inflation. But what if more universes exist? Or more dimensions? Such questions may remain mere interrogatives until a marriage of quantum mechanics and relativity occurs. Or perhaps our human sensibilities weren't fashioned to contemplate the essence of creation? A final paragraph asks a deeper question, one asked of many religions: what brought the universe into existence? Or, to avoid latent anthropomorphism, why did it emerge? Or, as Close puts it, "I am still confronted with the enigma of what encoded the quantum possibility into the void." The book ends with an appropriate quote from the Rig Veda. Though we seem to know more than the toga-clad sky starers of previous millennia, each discovery seems to open new questions.

"Nothing" provides an introduction to far more than nothing. It aims some 2,000 years of speculation at the void. Some of the narrative will more than challenge the scientifically nescient, so perhaps the "introduction" in the subtitle slightly misleads. Nonetheless, those seeking to initiate or expand upon scientific knowledge will find that "Nothing" provides a fascinating background on which to explore such brain wrinkling concepts. This book may look flimsy and may even fly away in a strong breeze, but this belies the density of information it contains. Perhaps it goes a bit too deep in places, and this may prove frustrating to readers seduced by the word "introduction." In any case, persistence will pay off as the history of science unfolds from the void as we are simultaneously revealed through it. This book provides a weighty read that bequeaths substance onto nothing.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Close observations of nothing will make you think, October 3, 2009
By 
Jay C. Smith (Portland, OR USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wide eyed kid at seventy five, December 30, 2010
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This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
I wish I had read this book sixty years ago; unfortunately it wasn't available back then and today the lessons in this book are not new but Professor Close takes a step sideways and gives those like me another view of what is to science is "a partially reveled masterpiece".
This little book wasn't easy for me to read but it was worth every minute spent doing it.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short, yes. Apropos, no., December 18, 2011
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I don't recommend this book for three reasons: (1) The writing style is ponderous and often unclear; I found myself many times having to reread a sentence just to understand the author's intended meaning, let alone the complex associated concept. (2) The majority of the book is a history of physicists and their discoveries, which is reasonably well presented if you don't know much about them, but there's actually precious little examination/contemplation of the concept of nothingness, even from a scientific, physical perspective. I suppose I was expecting a more philosophically intrepid book, which this definitely is not. (3) The physics concepts themselves are explained better elsewhere (Brian Greene, for example); here the explanations are--in my opinion--abstruse and clumsy. I encourage readers interested in quantum mechanics and high-energy particle physics to invest their reading time in books that specifically target those subjects. As for a good book on the subject of nothingness? I'm still searching.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost everything about nothing, April 22, 2010
By 
Jon Chambers (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Don't be misled by the title: inconsequential this little book is not, and some of the most profound questions are addressed here by Frank Close. What is empty space? From what did matter originate? Where are physicists now in their understanding of the laws that govern our universe?

As well as finding possible solutions to at least some of these questions, a reading of Nothing left me reflecting that the giants of classical and modern physics, Newton and Einstein, weren't so off-the-wall after all, even when seemingly at their least inspired. Newton's insistence on the existence of ether anticipates the modern view that there is no such thing as 'empty' space - if all matter is removed then it is filled with energy, from which matter can be created at levels exceeding 2mc². (Elsewhere, in Close's words, 'an example of "ether" is an electric field.') Einstein's hypothesised Cosmological Constant (or Lambda force), meanwhile, which he considered his biggest mistake, may actually have been detected, even if its value is almost immeasurably small, and even if Lambda is no longer required to counterbalance gravitational attraction in an expanding universe (as opposed to the stable one of received opinion in 1915).

This is a challenging book from the very first chapter, in which early ideas about the vacuum are discussed. According to Close, the Aristotelian argument for the absence of a void expresses these in its clearest form, although I for one found Aristotle's reasoning more akin to word-play than irrefutable logic. Subsequent chapters tackle the next 2000 years' worth of ideas. Most of us non-physicists will probably be left reeling, but Close is attentive to the non-specialist, keeps his explanations jargon-free and uses wide-ranging analogies from impressionist art to roulette so that abstract (and bizarre!) concepts acquire more concrete form.

The text is accompanied by excellent graphics which illustrate, for example, how the angles of a triangle can total 270°, or how particles can materialise 'from nothing'. An absorbing, challenging and rewarding read, then, for anyone with an interest in current theory, CERN's Large Hadron Collider, the nature of the universe and the origin of everything in it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book!, December 19, 2011
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This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Frank Close is a Physics Professor at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College. So he understands the physics at a very deep level, and his knowledge of the history is the best in my experience. Equally important is his skill as a popularizer, the result of a lifetime of discussing and arguing with laymen, philosophers and men of the cloth.

I have said all this in an attempt to answer the question: "How could anyone possibly write such a wonderful book?" The history is perfect. The scientific explanations are perfect. A ten your old child can understand it. I wouldn't change anything.

Here are two of the many things I learned while reading this book.

*The electromagnetic force that we observe in the macroscopic world we live in is about one third as strong as the force at very short distances, The reason for this is that the photons that mediate the force, as they travel, are constantly producing virtual electron-positron pairs which then recombine to form photons, and this weakens the force over large distances. However, in this context, the distance between the electron and the proton in a hydrogen atom has to be considered large.

*The Higgs field is a real physical field that fills all of space and causes a drag on all massive particles, giving them their mass. The Higgs particle itself is very massive, which is why it needs the LHC at CERN to produce it. (By the way, as of December 2011, it seems likely, but not certain, that they have indeed detected one.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Approaching a mirror at the speed of light ..., March 21, 2011
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This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
A very cool, well written little book! It wanders the ages of philosophy, Newtonian physics, and special relativity and QM theory. At least 2 chapters focus on Einstein's "thought experiments" and they do so quite well. The author does a bang up job easing the readers mind into the `c' paradox. If I was to instruct an intro course in non-tech physics , I would make this `just over essay size' read a required prerequisite before the class starts. `Nothing' positions itself well as a primer to the story of the wonder of everything. From a physics perspective, `Nothing' maps the critical path from which expand all the physical sciences.

If you have a HS student headed to his/her first "physics" class, this is a well posited gift that well help them grasp what's ahead and why. I've re-learned much less in much more of a book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and definitely about something, July 15, 2010
This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
As the title states, this book is about the idea of nothing. It is part (a very small part) philosophy and part science (for the most part). It starts with the early Greek philosophers and their concept to nothing, or more correctly - can nothing actually exist. (When you take the matter from a volume what is left? Is it nothing or does the presence of matter define the space and when it is removed the space no longer exists?) After a brief discussion of the ideas of these philosophers the author then goes on to experimental studies of nothing, in this case a vacuum and how the idea of air pressure actually creates what was ascribed to the vacuum itself. By page 22 (out of almost 150), the discussion shifts to atoms, fields, quantum vacuum effects and space-time. Finally, the last chapters deal with the cosmological ideas of a vacuum and how this ties into the idea of the "big bang". The focus of the book is on the idea that space is mostly empty, from the inside of atoms to the space between galaxies. Yet, quantum mechanics teaches that this "nothing" is full of energy and virtual partials that interact with light and matter. In fact, a vacuum fluctuation may be the source of the universe itself.

The book is written in a clear and engaging style, with no mathematics, and contains a lot of interesting material. I would recommend it to all those interested in science, from high school students to physics graduate students, as well as to those who have completed their schooling. All that is really required is a desire to learn more about nothing and why it maybe the dominant factor in the universe.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I now understand "nothing" a little better . . ., September 20, 2012
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This review is from: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
The concept of "nothing" is one of those things which has baffled me for some time. The traditional generic definition, as I have always understood it, is "a total vacuum" or an absence of anything. If this were the case, then a sealed glass jar which had been "totally vacuumed" prior to sealing could be said to contain nothing. But, is a vacuum, in and of itself, not something? It can be seen (or, I guess, more precisely, seen through); it has a "name" or definition . . . in the world of science, does this not make it a "something"? The reason this is important is that this would seem to be an argument for a case that there is no such thing as "nothing".

This book does a better than average job of explaining the physical science of this concept to the layman such as myself. A fair bit of it was still beyond my comprehension, but I attribute that to my lack of background.

I do recommend this book, even to the laymen. Just do not plan to come away with "the answer", just perhaps a little closer to it.

Chuck
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Nothing: A Very Short Introduction
Nothing: A Very Short Introduction by F. E. Close (Paperback - July 26, 2009)
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