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Longing for the Harmonies: Themes and Variations from Modern Physics Hardcover – December 17, 1987

4.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The title here sums up today's Big Bang scientists at sea among the theoretical dissonances and paradoxes they've tried to express in their GUTS (Grand Unified Theories), which ask the question Leibnitz posed long ago: Why is there something rather than nothing? Wilczek, physics professor at UC Santa Barbara, and his coauthor wife are only the latest but certainly among the most original writers who have tried to capture the current physics scene in a book. They sum up, in somewhat the form of "themes and variations"the authors are music loverssuch challenging problems of "quantal reality" as cosmic uniformity, interchangeability, etc. Sharply knowledgeable, they discuss the nature of light (they transform "waves" and "lumps" to a new word, laves) and run the gamut from quarks, colour (they choose the British spelling), mesons, gluons et al. to deep views on matter, antimatter and what may be the most exciting and seminal concept in the new physics: symmetry. Here they have a crack at answering Leibnitz's questionan arresting climax to a book loaded with astounding insights and riddles. Photos.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Wilczek (physics, University of California, Santa Barbara) and Devine (a former Guggenheim fellow) point out that modern physics is organized around a limited number of themes. They try to show that as a composer creates music by blending together esthetically pleasing variations, scientists create theories of the universe by developing intellectually pleasing concepts; new results disproving old theories create disharmonies that must be erased by superior theory. While this idea is basically correct, the musical analogy is forced and gets lost; but this is a nice exposition of modern physics for readers with some science background. Harold D. Shane, Baruch College of CUNY
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (December 17, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393024822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393024821
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #866,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. MacKenzie on February 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
Longing for the Harmonies is subtitled "Themes and variations from modern physics". I would have added "and beyond": I doubt there's another popularization of quantum mechanics and particle physics that also touches upon Keats, ancient Babylon and child psychology, to name but a few.

The book actually strikes me as two intertwined books. First, there are the "preludes" which are thought-provoking excursions here, there and everywhere. At times they seem quite off the wall and impossibly far from fundamental physics, but they always whet the appetite for what's to come, a bit like (to use the musical analogy which is the book's main metaphor) a solo which seems out of place until it ties back into the main body of the song.

Second, the "main body" of the book, although also laden with references and analogies from far and wide, exposes and (in so far as is possible!) demystifies quantum mechanics and fundamental physics in all its glory, both the large (cosmology and astrophysics) and the small (atoms and subatomic particles). The two domains, of course, are intimately related: the early Universe, devoid of complicated structures such as planets, stars and human beings, was a soup of elementary particles, and its evolution (and, perhaps, birth) was dictated by rules of the game established by particle physics.

A review wouldn't be a review without at least a minor complaint; not an easy task with this book, but here is mine: the table of contents strikes me as a bit too cryptic.
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Format: Paperback
Longing for the Harmonies: That's what physicists do. This book, in fact, pretty much sums up what physics is, at heart, about: a search for connection and clarity, a series of variations on themes, the interplay of tension and release, mystery and discovery--the universe's own fugue. Frank Wilczek-who recently won the Nobel prize for puzzling out how quarks glom together-and Betsy Wilczek-writer, blogger, math whiz--have composed an entrancing work that captures both the substance and process of understanding.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Finding this book and it's " sequel ", The Lightness of Being, have proved , for me, the Rosetta stone of understanding how the interactions of the elemental forces of nature combine to constitute the world of matter, which we inhabit. I have read many layman level books and virtually all the physics articles in Scientific American for years, without the clarity and precision that Frank Wilzcek can bring together in just a few dozen pages. As Lecter said, " Save yourself " . In this case, save a lot of reading time and just get, Longing for the Harmonies and The Lightness of Being, and you will thank your lucky stars.

Part of what Freeman Dyson said about Frank Wilczek is " ...that he writes...with a lightness that can come only come to one who is absolute master of his subject."
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Format: Paperback
This has long been one of my favorite expositions on the nature of science, written by scientists. Wilczek and Devine present one of the most creative and playful discussions of physics, from the basic to the forefront that I have seen. I am very happy that this book has been re-released because now many more people will have an opportunity to share the joy I had reading it.
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Format: Paperback
This book, while well-written and organized, can be slightly frustrating. Those readers looking for a straight-forward, purely factual explanation of quantum physics should go elsewhere. This text, which I read for a 100-level physics class, flips between flowing metaphors and Feynman diagrams, while trying to explain the concepts behind quantum physics. In other words, there is thankfully no math. The authors do tend to get slightly overconfident in their theories at times, putting more authority behind their pet ideas than may be warranted. Still, overall it's a good overview of quantum physics for those who want to understand it conceptually.
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