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Customer Review

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Narrative but Lacking True Illumination, November 1, 2012
This review is from: Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the 'God Particle' (Hardcover)
Writing popular explanations of modern physics is not easy. There are a wealth of books about introductory quantum mechanics for the layman, but finding a well-written explanation of advanced topics that actually does some true explaining is about as easy as, well, finding the Higgs Boson. Sadly, this book by Jim Baggott is not what you're likely to be looking for. It is well-written, and it does provide some very nice behind-the-scenes history -- I didn't know, for instance, that Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg were classmates at at the Bronx High School of Science. And when it comes to detailing the experimental history of seeking and presumably finding the the Higgs Boson, Baggott does a fine job of narration. The author fails, however, to give meaningful verbal explanations for many quantum processes. And in fairness, perhaps in some cases that's just not possible. There may come a point where the reality is expressed so completely in the mathematics that physical understanding -- to the extent that that's possible in the quantum world -- can be achieved only through an understanding of the mathematics. There are several instances where Baggott introduces a concept in a sketchy way, then simply declares that one result or the other is a consequence of the concept in question without giving a real sense of why that effect comes about. A prime example is the Higgs mechanism itself. Here's the tail end of Baggott's explanation: "Breaking the symmetry creates a massless Nambu-Goldstone boson. This may be 'absorbed' by the massless spin 1 field bosons to create a third degree of freedom...In the Higgs mechanism the act of gaining three-dimensionality is like applying a brake. The particle slows down...." And the slowdown effect is what we interpret as the particle having mass. Fine, but why is it that a particle must slow down if its wave-function acquires a third dimension in the direction of motion? I assume that it's related to issues of viewing the particle in other reference frames moving at different velocities and the transformations that would result but which don't if the particle is massless and must move at lightspeed.... Of course, what I just started writing probably makes no sense to many people, so perhaps I've just managed to appreciate the difficulty of Baggott's task in writing his book. My point, however, is that few of the "explanations" in Baggott's text really explain in fundamental way. But as I stated at the beginning, perhaps that's an impossible goal when it comes to modern physics. My bottom line, after this too-long of a review, is that you'll get some interesting history and a fine explanation of the experimental side of the topic, but don't expect to understand the theoretical side after you read this book unless you already understood it going in.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 23, 2014 5:47:30 PM PDT
Pixie Lady says:
Can you make a suggestion as to where to get the book you describe? I discovered well into my adulthood that I love science. Learning about the Higgs Boson, I would like to know more. I never took physics but took chemistry and had a biology professor in college who loved chemistry. So I have a few basics, much like others. Can you help? Thanks.
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