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Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe Paperback – November 30, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The concept of symmetry has seen increasing service in science popularizations as a metaphor to convey the intuitive appeal of physics, a vogue that continues in this dense treatise. Nobel Laureate Lederman (The God Particle) and theoretical physicist Hill deploy mathematical symmetry as a unifying theme in a tour of physics from Newton's laws to quarks and superstrings. Sometimes, as in a demonstration that the invariance of physical laws through time implies the law of conservation of energy, this approach yields insights. But usually, as in their confusing exposition of special relativity, symmetry considerations get in the way. The authors keep things readable with lots of physics-for-poets bits, including some tie-ins to environmentalism, comparisons of modern cosmology with ancient Greek myths, and a fictional dialogue—partly in Italian—between two newlywed physicists and Galileo's ghost. Unfortunately, symmetry is a forbiddingly abstract branch of mathematics that was peripheral to the development of much of physics and gives little tangible feel for its substance, and the point where it becomes indispensable to discussions of modern physics is also the tipping point where the book, like many others, topples into total incomprehensibility to laypeople. Readers who think symmetry implies clarity and grace will be disappointed. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A tour de force of physics made simple...."
— Times Literary Supplement 

— Discover 

“Few books about modern physics are as fascinating, far-ranging, and readable as this. It would be appreciated by anyone interested in the nature of science and the beauty of the universe…."
NSTA Recommends

"A compelling and accessible discussion….”
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 363 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (January 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591025753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025757
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Leon M. Lederman, Nobel Laureate (Batavia, IL), is Resident Scholar at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Pritzker Professor of Science at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the author of the highly acclaimed The God Particle, the editor of Portraits of Great American Scientists, and a contributor to Science Literacy for the Twenty-First Century. Dr. Lederman and coauthor Christopher T. Hill are also the coauthors of Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 105 people found the following review helpful By Bill Mondello on October 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
One of the problems I face in teaching at a small liberal arts college is providing for our english, theatre, and music majors, a substantive introduction to modern physics. We have to get beyond the basics of heat, light and sound, and we have to talk about quarks, and black holes, relativity, the quantum theory, and the whole wonderful universe. Finally, a book has arrived that does all of this, and wonderfully unifies all of physics under its main mast of symmetry. These things captivate our students. Yet it also helps to have heros (especially some female scientist and mathematicians), and to still be a lyrical and readable account of things, but not to trivialize the subject. Finally, Professor Leon Lederman and Dr. Christopher Hill have risen to the cause. This is the first, and probably the unique, and perhaps the ultimate, attempt to reach out and fill this gap. I can't tell you how happy I am to see this book arrive. I have been using materials from their website, for years, but finally it all comes together in a book that I can assign to my students. This book is great... I repeat, it is great. It isn't easy, but it acheives so much (there are dozens of useless books popularizing science out there). The biography and theme, the life of Emmy Noether, is a perfect lead in to this immense and majestic subject. It is poignant and beautifully written. The appendix, with its humoresque student solving an SAT test problem using symmetry, is probably worth the purchase price of tuition alone. This book will hook my students, and will sit prominently on their bookshelves, in their homes, when they become lawyers, doctors, statesmen, and composers, a ready reference to all that is the mystery of nature, for the rest of their lives.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By M. Paschos on December 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
We are often delighted by the sight of symmetry when we observe it in a beautiful flower, in hexagonal snowflakes, or in man-made structures such as arches or bridges. But how many of us realize that symmetries are closely related to the conservation laws of physics? Lederman and Hill, 2 well-known and practicing physicists, describe the multiple facets of this topic, discussing how symmetry in the flow of time is related to energy conservation. They use this concept as a springboard to expand upon the importance of energy in this period of our civilization with real facts and figures.

The first few chapters deal with symmetries of space and time and their relation to the conservation of momentum and energy. Fascinating stories like that about perpetual motion machines abound, and there are personal vignettes like one about Amalia Noether, a young lady who discovered the deeper connection between symmetries and physical laws and still suffered trials and tribulations as a woman seeking an academic position.

Hill and Lederman take on the task of describing symmetries throughout physics, from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics, all the way to modern topics of particle physics. The book is intended for readers at an advanced high-school level or non-physics majors at university. Chapter 6, for instance, gives a refreshing account of the law of inertia- how it was formulated (incorrectly) by the ancient Greeks, later to be discovered by Galileo and to become a basic postulate in the relativity theory.
Relativity is expounded upon in Ch. 7, whereby full appreciation of its contents requires some guidance. Other chapters describe
e.g., symmetries of quarks and leptons, which currently stimulate public imagination.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on June 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Wow. This is some book. Unlike many books that describe the evolution of modern cosmological theory, this one is dedicated to the understanding of physics itself, both its history and it's collation of knowledge about reality.

Through the course of the text, the history of discoveries in physics is described, giving all contributors from Aristarchis, Galileo and Newton, to Einstein, Feynman and Guth, among others, their just due. That it has been a globe effort is evident from the source nationalities of these intellects, as diverse as Scotland and Japan. The narration clearly illustrates that good science is the result of the cumulative efforts of many different individuals, from many different cultures throughout history.

Interesting too is that the book's basic starting point is the intellectual contribution of a brilliant female mathemation, Amalia Noether, working at about the same time and in the same country as the better known Einstein. It is her theory of symmetry in physics, worked out in mathematical theorems, that created a major connecting link between physics and mathematics. Although the book is not in depth enough to actually make her contribution clearer than "Noether's Theorum," her discoveries are obviously at the core of the entire movement in modern physics. It's nice to know that my old high school math teacher, who so disparaged the math abilities of his female students was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The book is well conceived in its presentation of the information. It begins with the earliest efforts of the ancient Greeks and Romans to understand the workings of nature. Their concepts, sometimes startlingly close to the truth, served as the starting point for later researchers.
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