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The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe [Kindle Edition]

Frank Close
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Speculation is rife that by 2012 the elusive Higgs boson will be found at the Large Hadron Collider. If found, the Higgs boson would help explain why everything has mass. But there’s more at stake—what we’re really testing is our capacity to make the universe reasonable.

Our best understanding of physics is predicated on something known as quantum field theory. Unfortunately, in its raw form, it doesn’t make sense—its outputs are physically impossible infinite percentages when they should be something simpler, like the number 1. The kind of physics that the Higgs boson represents seeks to “renormalize” field theory, forcing equations to provide answers that match what we see in the real world.

The Infinity Puzzle is the story of a wild idea on the road to acceptance. Only Close can tell it.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for The Infinity Puzzle:
“It is a pleasure to read a book on recent advances in our understanding of the structure of matter by an author who not only understands the subject but also takes care to investigate conflicting accounts of how these advances came about.”
—Peter Higgs, Emeritus Professor of Physics, The University of Edinburgh
“As someone who can deftly explain abstruse quantum field theory to a lay reader, Frank Close is a rarity among physicists. Rarer still, he knows how to weave a compelling tale—that of the ‘infinity problem,’ which has bedeviled the field of quantum electrodynamics and subsequent attempts to unify the forces of nature. The result is a great scientific whodunit, replete with a large, engaging cast of characters, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, and unexpected twists and turns. Here is proof that Close belongs among the very first rank of scientist-authors. I strongly recommend The Infinity Puzzle.”
—Steve Nadis, co-author of The Shape of Inner Space
“The development of quantum field theory is among the very greatest achievements of humankind, on par with those of Einstein, Newton and Darwin. Frank Close introduces these difficult ideas with a rare clarity and simplicity.  Anyone who wants to understand why we built the LHC and what we hope to learn from it should read this book.”
—Dan Hooper, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and University of Chicago; author of Dark Cosmos and Nature’s Blueprint

Praise for Frank Close and Neutrino:

"A fine piece of scientific popularisation from one of the best scientific communicators around."
—Literary Review

"Close is a lucid, reliable and enthusiastic guide to the strange and wonderful microcosmic world that dwells deep within reality."
Frank Wilczek, Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics, MIT, 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics

About the Author

FRANK CLOSE is professor of theoretical physics at Oxford University, dean of Graduate Studies and fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. He has been fellow of the Institute of Physics since 1991, and was awarded the Institute's Kelvin Medal for his contributions to the Public Understanding of Physics. He was formerly the head of the Theoretical Physics Division at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and head of communications and public education at CERN. He is the author of several books, including the bestselling Lucifer's Legacy. His other books include Antimatter, Neutrino, The Cosmic Onion, Apocalypse When?, Too Hot to Handle and The Particle Odyssey.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3894 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (November 29, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005OVTNB2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,952 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
140 of 143 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The hunting of the infinities November 19, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) which describes the interaction of light and matter is the most accurate theory in all of science, providing almost unbelievably accurate agreement with experiment. Yet in the middle of the twentieth century the theory was in a deep crisis. Calculations of even the simplest of events in the subatomic world, like the absorption and emission of a photon by an electron, seemed to give nonsensical infinite results that flew in the face of finite values from experiment. These infinities dotted the landscape of physics like ugly tumors, leading some to believe that physics was fundamentally on the wrong track. But hope was at hand. It took a whole post-war breed of brilliant young scientists to invent an ingenious set of tricks collectively called "renormalization" to get rid of these infinities and restore the theory to a complete form. Renormalization not only axed the infinities in QED but became the test that any fundamental theory of physics had to pass before being deemed acceptable. In a stunning set of successes, it was applied to the unification of the weak and electromagnetic forces and then to the strong force holding protons and neutrons together. In this book Frank Close tells us how all this happened.

Close's book is not only a clear description of renormalization but is also probably the most detailed popular history of post-war particle physics that I have read. Close starts with QED and how its brilliant expositors like Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman developed renormalization techniques to exorcise its infinities.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This book is for the historian of physics May 10, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you are interested in the minute details of who-did-what-first in the evolution of the Standard Model, and you really care about who got Nobel prizes and who did not but really deserved to, then this is the book for you. I don't care about either very much, so a good part of this book was a waste of my time.

The descriptions of basic physics models is always very challenging, and Close tries to do a good job of it. He does manage to get across a lot about how fundamental particles behave, but the various theories he discusses are just names, with no substantive content. I know that in mathematics, there are many areas that simply cannot be explained to the non-mathematical layperson, and that may be true of modern physics as well. However, in other fields that I know (population biology and economics, for instance) the important stuff can be fully explained with only the most minimal use of mathematical formalism. I am searching for a popular account of the Standard Model with this attractive feature.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Higgs Boson Explained December 13, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This review is being written on 14 December 2011 just after
CERN announced to a packed press conference in Geneva that
it had found evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson.
While this is not as sensational as the first landing on the
Moon, it is a partial verification of the relevance to the
real world of various developments made in theoretical
physics since 1950.

So what is needed is an authoritative book explaining what
is CERN, who is Higgs and what is a boson? Frank Close
has written such a book in advance of the press conference.
He is a senior physicist and an experienced writer about
science. He interviewed participants, read papers and
other documents and used his own expertise to give a
useful account of the sequence of events.

Inevitably the technical aspects of renormalization and
bosons are glossed over to some extent. `If all this
could be summarized in a few sentences it would not be
worth a Nobel prize.' Close has quite a lot to say about
several Nobel prize awards as well as explaining how
high level progress in science is achieved.

The difficulty facing this or any other reviewer is
specifying the professional background needed to read
the book. At the very least, experience in any of the
physical sciences and/or the history of technology helps.
However anyone with an interest in physics will
benefit from reading some or all `Infinity Puzzle'.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful

"It is a pleasure to read a book on recent advances in our understanding of the structure of matter by an author who not only understands the subject but also takes care to investigate conflicting accounts of how these advances came about."--Peter Higgs, Prof. Emer. Physics

Under the auspices of CERN in Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was constructed to accelerate particles around the speed of light. LHC is the biggest experiment that particle physics has ever set out to conduct, trying to find answer to how the universe is structured and why. By creating miniature matter/anti-matter collisions in "a small region of space, what the universe as a whole was like in the first moments after the Big Bang."
Sought for decades in experiments aimed at detecting the subatomic particle, it gets its nickname, the 'God particle', from its elusiveness. That particle, when found, will answer why other subatomic particles weigh, what they do, perhaps opening the door to explain the mystery of gravity. By literally smashing atomic particles together, and see what pieces emerge from the collisions. Recently, two research teams at CERN lab report they have found evidence for the existence of the God particle.

"Finding the 'particle' gives us the detailed rules of Nature, and those details tell us how Nature does its work, and will hopefully lead to more discoveries." says physicist Frank Close. His adventure through the major scientific discoveries in high energy physics, started when Paul Dirac harmonized quantum mechanics with Special Relativity in 1928, advancing the major technical progress in today's digital world.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars this was the best. It was very well-written science/history/drama
Of the last ten books I’ve read, this was the best. It was very well-written science/history/drama, very clear and logical, and tells a smoothly progressing story. Read more
Published 3 months ago by David L. Peterson
4.0 out of 5 stars Learned a lot
Fascinating but be warned it's quite technical. Well written.
Published 5 months ago by Judy Paris
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 5 months ago by Joel C. Rogers
2.0 out of 5 stars More about the discoverers
The book is more about the discoverers, their machinations, wins and losses rather than the discoveries. Read more
Published 9 months ago by NJ
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a novel
Frank close makes the physics of QED digestible and gives you an inside seat on the history of the making of this beautiful theory. Read more
Published 9 months ago by JP
4.0 out of 5 stars science story
the true drama in science of matter
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction
The Infinity Puzzle is a good introduction to the Quantum Field Theory for those who are interested in the subject. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Edouard M. Ponist
2.0 out of 5 stars Good in the begining, but gets completely disjointed and illogical
Good in parts, but I found a dogs breakfast if you are wanting a readable guide to the history of understanding modern nuclear physics. Read more
Published 17 months ago by lyndall smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Solving the Great Puzzle
Oxford University professor of physics, Fellow and Tutor in Physics at Exeter College, Oxford, Frank Close, demonstrates outstanding scholarly work in his new book, The Infinity... Read more
Published 18 months ago by D. Wayne Dworsky
5.0 out of 5 stars Dense, informative
Incredibly dense but informative summary of theoretical physics in the 20th century.

Although the book takes pains to avoid using equations (I assume at the publisher's... Read more
Published on April 17, 2013 by Paul
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