Customer Review

123 of 141 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars You're not going to learn anything about physics from this book, January 11, 2012
This review is from: Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (Hardcover)
I am a working physicist, 30 years past my Ph. D., and I picked up this book thinking it would be interesting to learn about progress in particle physics and cosmology. I was very disappointed. The meat of the book is Chapters 16 and 17, where Prof. Randall finally gets to describing the theory behind the Higgs boson and other anticipated discoveries from the LHC. These are so poorly written it seems like her editor just figured, "no one will understand this, so why bother trying to make it readable." The sentence structure is convoluted to the point that, even with multiple readings, it's impossible to tell the point she's trying to make. She throws around terms like "weak charge" without ever bothering to explain whether this quantity is a weak version of the electric charge or an analogy of electric charge that conveys the weak force. She frequently makes reference to the Planck length, without ever saying what it is, where it comes from, or how to translate between distance and energy, which she uses interchangeably.

This weakness is illustrated by her explanation of the possible applicability of extra dimensions to explain the 16 orders-of-magnitude difference between gravity and the weak force, one of the few contributions she takes personal credit for. You could just say, "the forces are of different strengths" and leave it at that. Randall says, in essence, "Imagine gravity is 10^16 times stronger on another brane in another dimension, but that dimension is coupled to our world by an arbitrary coupling constant of 10^-16." This adds nothing of intellectual value to the field, but the buzzwords have been used, so it's time to schedule a book tour and let the accolades roll in.

Now, of course, there may be some actual content to her brane theory, but, my point is, you won't find it in the book, which is, therefore, a waste of time.

The balance of the book is devoted to a description of the design of the LHC (which, as near as I can tell, is nothing more than a yet-bigger and more expensive synchrotron, an accelerator that hasn't had its fundamental design changed in 60 years) and a travelogue of her VIP tours of various physics sites and parties. I learned a lot more from "The 4 percent universe: dark matter, dark energy, and the race to discover the rest of reality" by Richard Panek. He focuses only on cosmology, but does a reasonable job making his material clear.

Skip it.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 31, 2012 3:19:29 PM PST
The use of super conducting magnets is alone a HUGE advance and certainly not a 60 year old design feature. Even if your point had merit regarding the ring itself, the experiments and hence the detectors, which are the main design features in addition to the ring itself, are by no means "old" technology. Pretty snarky review I would say.

Posted on Apr 14, 2012 9:24:58 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 14, 2012 9:28:43 PM PDT
Jack says:
Great review. I found Randall's writing style aggravating and condescending. She always speaks about scientists in any field as "we", as though she is the leader of the entire field of scientific inquiry. The book seems to be written for high schoolers, but with a tone more frequently seen in kindergarten. For example she says that "truth" and "beauty" could not be synonymous (as one TED speaker suggested at an "elite" conference that she was attending) because otherwise we would never have the phrase "an ugly truth". Really. That passes for logical deduction?

Posted on Aug 22, 2012 6:22:40 AM PDT
;) says:
I was as disappointed as this writer. Warped Passages had MUCH more substance. This one seems to be purely "for the money."

Sad!

Posted on Dec 21, 2012 7:09:31 PM PST
Kokopelli says:
User,

THANK YOU for saving me the frustration (and expense) of buying this book. Your background makes you credible, so I'm taking your advice to "Skip it."

Posted on Jan 8, 2013 1:14:51 AM PST
A. Maldonado says:
User,

Do you still think the LHC is a big waste of money?
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