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

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Length: 464 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An engrossing history that's also accessible for a general audience." ---Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Frank Close is the author of several books, including Antimatter, Neutrino, The Void, and The New Cosmic Onion.

Jonathan Cowley is a British actor living in Los Angeles who has received AudioFile Earphones Awards for his narrations of The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen and The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

Product Details

  • File Size: 5060 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (November 29, 2011)
  • Publication Date: November 29, 2011
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005OVTNB2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,507 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ash Jogalekar TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Regardless of what one might like to conclude from the enthusiastic reviews quoted on the dust cover, the layman will learn nothing useful about quantum field theory from this book since that is quite impossible. What one will find is a complete and engagingly told tale of some of the most important and exciting events in the history of physics, leading to what has become the most successful theory of modern times.

The saga has all the qualities of a finely crafted suspense novel. Quantum field theory, at first thought to be an elegant and powerful generalisation of quantum mechanics, was soon found to be afflicted with such serious computational inconsistencies that, for a time, it quite fell out of favour. Only the work of the world's finest intellects brought its glorious resurrection.

Prof. Close has exhaustively researched the topic, apparently consulting virtually every important paper, conference proceeding and even personal diaries, supported by interviews with every living scientist who took part in the drama. Although I am intimately familiar with the physics, I learned a great deal about its fascinating history and the personal interactions of the participants.

What emerges is a very different view of grand science than that which is likely to be held by the novice. Instead of the logical, ordered and seamless progression from one great idea to the next, we find that advancements also involve missteps, misunderstandings and missed opportunities, often tainted with personal prejudice and haunted by the spectre of competition. In his carefully constructed account, Prof. Close communicates both the enormous thrill and crushing disappointments that typify advanced research.
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