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The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World [Hardcover]

Sean Carroll
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 13, 2012 0525953590 978-0525953593 First Edition
Scientists have just announced an historic discovery on a par with the splitting of the atom: the Higgs boson, the key to understanding why mass exists has been found. In The Particle at the End of the Universe, Caltech physicist and acclaimed writer Sean Carroll takes readers behind the scenes of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to meet the scientists and explain this landmark event.

The Higgs boson is the particle that more than six thousand scientists have been looking for using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and highest energy particle accelerator, which lies in a tunnel 17 miles in circumference, as deep as 575 feet beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It took ten years to build and this search has now cost over $9 billion and required the collaboration of engineers from more than one hundred countries.

What is so special about the Higgs boson? We didn’t really know for sure if anything at the subatomic level had any mass at all until we found it. The fact is, while we have now essentially solved the mass puzzle, there are things we didn’t predict and possibilities we haven’t yet dreamed. A doorway is opening into the mind boggling, somewhat frightening world of dark matter. We only discovered the electron just over a hundred years ago and considering where that took us—from nuclear energy to quantum computing--the inventions that will result from the Higgs discovery will be world-changing.

The Particle at the End of the Universe not only explains the importance of the Higgs boson but also the Large Hadron Collider project itself. Projects this big don’t happen without a certain amount of conniving, dealing, and occasional skullduggery— and Sean Carroll explores it all. This is an irresistible story (including characters now set to win the Nobel Prize among other glories) about the greatest scientific achievement of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When the media announced in early July 2012 that researchers had finally confirmed the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, aka “the God particle,” physicists around the world hailed the discovery as a major scientific breakthrough. To California Institute of Technology researcher Carroll (From Eternity to Here, 2010), the event gave another opportunity to demonstrate what he does best, translating complicated ideas into lay-friendly language. In describing how the Higgs boson was detected after decades of theoretical speculation, Carroll covers a wide swath of science, from the Big Bang to quantum mechanics, as well as the thorny politics behind funding the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, where experiments established the particle’s existence. Along with an overview of abstract concepts like supersymmetry, Carroll more lightheartedly explains why Hollywood loves science and why the world wasn’t likely to end if the collider inadvertently created a mini-black-hole. A first-rate physics guide that enlarges our understanding of the universe we live in. --Carl Hays

Review

“The science is authoritative, yet bold and lively.  The narrative is richly documented, yet full of human drama.    Carroll’s saga pulls you aboard a modern voyage of discovery.”
—Frank Wilczek, Nobel Laureate, author of The Lightness of Being

“In this superb book, Sean Carroll provides a fascinating and lucid look at the most mysterious and important particle in nature, and the experiment that revealed it.   Anyone with an interest in physics should read this, and join him in examining the new worlds of physics to which this discovery may lead.”
—Leonard Mlodinow, author of NYT bestseller The Drunkard’s Walk

"Carroll tells the story of the particle that everyone has heard of but few of us actually understand. After you read his book—an enticing cocktail of personal anecdote, clever analogy, and a small dose of mind-bending theory—you will truly grasp why the Higgs boson has been sought after for so long by so many. Carroll is a believer in big science asking big questions and his beliefs are infectious and inspiring."
—Morgan Freeman, Actor and Executive Producer of Through the Wormhole


"Carroll is a sure-footed guide through some of the most perplexing and fascinating insights of modern physics."-Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe
(Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe)

"[Carroll's] writing is accessible and peppered with cultural refernces... but don't be fooled Carroll isn't afraid to wade into topics that have befuddled even brand-name physicists."-Wired
(Wired)

"Carroll keeps it real, getting at the complex guts of cutting-edge cosmology in discussions that will challenge fans of Hawking's A Brief History of Time."-The Washington Post
(The Washington Post)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (November 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953593
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, specializing in cosmology, gravitation, field theory, and quantum mechanics. His research addresses the foundations of cosmology: What happened at the very beginning of the universe? Why was entropy low near the Big Bang? Is there an interpretation of quantum mechanics that applies to the universe as a whole? What are the dark matter and dark energy that dominate the universe today? How do complex structures evolve over time?

Carroll has been blogging regularly since 2004. His textbook "Spacetime and Geometry" has been adopted by a number of universities for their graduate courses in general relativity. He is a frequent public speaker, and has appeared on TV shows such as The Colbert Report and Through The Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. He has produced a set of lectures for The Teaching Company on dark matter and dark energy, and another on the nature of time. He has served as a science consultant for films such as Thor and TRON: Legacy, as well as for TV shows such as Fringe and Bones.

His 2010 popular book, "From Eternity to Here," explained the arrow of time and connected it with the origin of our universe. "The Particle at the End of the Universe," about the Large Hadron Collider and the quest to discover the Higgs boson, was released November 2012.

More information at http://preposterousuniverse.com/

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
271 of 278 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling account of the hunting of the Higgs November 13, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many of us remember where we were during key world events; particle physicists would likely remember where they were on July 4, 2012. That was the day the Higgs boson was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. By any measure it was one of the most momentous discoveries in physics, perhaps in all of science. But what exactly is the Higgs boson? Why is it important? And how was it discovered? In this engaging and informative book Caltech physicist Sean Carroll sheds light on all these aspects of the Higgs discovery.

Carroll's book can be roughly divided into three parts. In the first part, after giving us a brief overview of particle physics describing relativity, quantum mechanics, the Standard Model and the discovery of the twelve elementary particles that make up the universe, Carroll plunges into a description of the giant particle accelerators that have made possible our understanding of nature's fundamental building blocks. Personally I found this part most enjoyable, since it's a little more accessible than the theoretical part. Carroll tells us about the stupendous engineering challenges involved in the building of the LHC and takes us on a nice little tour of its interior. There's all kinds of fascinating and amusing stuff here; the lead tungstate crystals in the detectors that took ten years to grow, the earlier particle accelerator whose workings were affected by the moon's tides, the baguette dropped by a bird that temporarily created electrical problems, the helium "explosion" caused by high voltage that crippled the machine for months, the physicist whose face was exposed to an intense beam of protons and who still escaped relatively unscathed.
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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read November 13, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sean Carroll is a great writer, with his own brand of penmanship. He elegantly introduces particle physics without the mathematical jargon that can be confusing to some scientifically illiterate readers, which is a good thing if his goal is to explicate this topic to the masses. It does contain some repetitive info though, especially if you have already browsed through a bunch theoretical physics books. However, Sean Carroll's book does have an advantage, since the discovery of the particle, that seems to be the Higgs boson, was just around the corner. If you are interested in particle physics, amazed by the standard model's newly discovered member, and eager to fill your curiosity bucket with as much information as possible, than this book is a must read for you.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An effective menu of the particle zoo November 29, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Sean Carroll is clearly one of the giants in his ability to make comprehensible the incomprehensible world of particle physics. In terms of cataloguing and explaining the fields, forces and matter (and their relationships) that make up reality, this is the ultimate work that I've read so far (at least for those of us not in the particle physics profession). And importantly, we need to remember that this is an area of science in the process of very rapid evolution. That brings us to one of the major themes of the book. Carroll does an excellent job presenting the history and the ongoing research at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) including the critical search for the illusive Higg's Boson. A word of caution: don't skip the appendices.

I'd have to rate this an "important read" for anyone obsessed with understanding what existence is all about. Not surprisingly it doesn't have the answer, but it does help explain the process and the path science is on to reach that goal.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Duality December 5, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have read other Kindle books and singles. I have watched Youtube videos and lectures on Particle Physics. This book presents the information in a way as to not treat us like the reader is in Junior High. But unlike the books that get very technical about super symmetries, it is very easy to read. It is rare to find a book that has both of those qualities; Easy to follow and good/deep/technical information.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
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"This is the story of the people who have devoted their lives to discovering the ultimate nature of reality, of which the Higgs [boson] is a crucial component. There are theorists, sitting with pencil and paper, fueled by expresso and heated disputes with colleagues, turning over abstract ideas in their minds. There are engineers, pushing machines and electronics well beyond the limits of existing technology. And most of all there are experimenters, bringing the machines and the ideas together to discover something new about nature. Modern physics at the cutting edge involves projects that cost billions of dollars and takes decades to complete, requiring extraordinary devotion and a willingness to bet high stakes in search of unique rewards. When it all comes together, the world changes."

The above extract comes from the prologue of this extraordinary book by Dr. Sean Carroll. He is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology and an author.

Note that in the above extract that a "boson" is a collective term for all particles that carry a force. For example, the photon (a particle of light) carries the electromagnetic force. The "Higgs" in Higgs boson is after British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs (born 1929).

This book deals with science and thus reality. The Higgs boson helps humanity with reality by answering this question:

Why do most particles have mass?

Personally, I read this book to learn about the Higgs boson but found that this book is so much more. (This book treats July 4, 2012 as the day the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced. Actually, it was tentatively announced on this day.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Harmless.
As a result of reading this book I suffered only a small flesh wound after attempting to tunnel through a wall. Also, since I read on kindle - NO PAPER CUTS! Read more
Published 11 days ago by Dean A. Everhart
5.0 out of 5 stars endless universe
It navigate me to the quest for the world of elementary particles without technical terms or jargons.
Their passion for exploration of the endless universe really excites me.
Published 14 days ago by juniwai
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good as it Gets Without Equations
Sean Carroll's talent for explaining complex notions is unmatched by anyone writing in today's popular science press. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Mac Advocate
5.0 out of 5 stars Sean Carroll delivers a wondeful perspective on the Higgs Boson...
I am a huge fan of Sean Carroll and in the book he delights all of the Particle Physics groupies and sub groupies. Read more
Published 26 days ago by DRB Reynoldsburg
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
It is interesting even for a non scientist as myself. It can be a Little bit tough to follow all the time when you are not within that field.
Published 1 month ago by Richard Kokholm-Erichsen
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb and expert account
Professor Sean Carroll is a physicist at the California Institute of Technology; he is also a superb writer with a rare facility for explaining his subject to the nonphysicist. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Truth Seeker
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes what seems like an obscure particle/field something quite...
Great read - and for anyone that would like to know what Higgs Boson/Field seems to be (do we really understand it? I don't think so, but it looks like a good working model). Read more
Published 1 month ago by mattkoop
4.0 out of 5 stars Insight into the quantum world
Not having formal training in physics, but a long-standing interest in the subject, the book gave me new understanding of the LHC and how the Higgs boson and field play a critical... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Clyde Stanfield
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes particle physics accessible
My introduction to expository particle physics was Lederman and Teresi's "The God particle"—and, indeed, Carroll references here the ambiguous reception accorded that name... Read more
Published 2 months ago by jade_nb
5.0 out of 5 stars Expert writing on a complex subject
Particle physics is a tough subject to write about, but you can tell that Mr. Carroll has a vast and profound knowledge of the subject. The book is both readable and informative. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kurt Thompson
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