Skip to main content

Deep Down Things – Bruce A. Schumm ***

I was looking forward to reading this, as it’s difficult to find a treatment of the Standard Model of particle physics that is both thorough and accessible, and this is exactly what Bruce Schumm aims to provide in Deep Down Things. Unfortunately, it ends up being a little too technical in parts, and ultimately I don’t think I can justify giving it more than three stars. But I do like this book, and it’s definitely worth a look.
Schumm builds up to a long discussion of gauge theory, and since this is rarely touched on in popular science books, the coverage is useful. The amount of detail Schumm goes into here, however, makes it necessary for him to first give the reader a detailed grounding in the Schrödinger wave equation, internal symmetry spaces and Lie groups. Schumm is quite good in these earlier sections at defining the important ideas and concepts. But the level of understanding he then encourages the reader to reach means that it can be easy to get lost amongst the specialist language, and it’s sometimes difficult to follow the explanations. The chapter on group theory is the best example of this. It is intended to introduce the main aspects of the theory to those who haven’t come across it before, but unless the reader is already fairly familiar with the material, they are likely to have to read through everything twice or three times before being able to move on.
This is a shame, because there are other parts of the book where Schumm’s style of writing is incredibly approachable and where he is quite funny. At points, he gives the reader very useful analogies and exercises to carry out that give a good feel for some of the trickier concepts. And the Feynman diagrams used a lot are generally very useful and help clarify what’s being talked about.
Unfortunately, there’s little on the people involved in developing the ideas underpinning the Standard Model, and given that the science is often quite challenging, it would have been good to be able to have a break from it here and there. I would have liked to read a lot more about Emmy Noether, for instance, a German mathematician whose theorem is relevant to the section on symmetries. As Schumm explains, she ended up being one of the greatest mathematicians in history, but only after having to fight hard against the prejudices of her misogynistic contemporaries.
All in all, however, though this is probably best for physics undergraduates, it would be a shame if no-one else read it. If you like a challenge and you are willing to persevere with this, you’re likely to get a lot out of it and be rewarded with a good understanding of the Standard Model at the end. Just be aware that it can be a struggle in parts.

Hardback:  
Review by Matt Chorley

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

The Best of R. A. Lafferty (SF) – R. A. Lafferty ****

Throughout my high school years (1973–76) I carefully kept a list of all the science fiction I read. I’ve just dug it out, and it contains no fewer than 1,291 entries – almost all short stories I found in various SF magazines and multi-author anthologies. Right on the first page, the sixth item is ‘Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne’ by R. A. Lafferty, and his name appears another 32 times before the end of the list. This isn’t a peculiarity of my own tastes. Short stories were much more popular in those days than they are today, and any serious SF fan would have encountered Lafferty – a prolific writer of short fiction – in the same places I did.

But times change, and this Gollancz Masterworks volume has a quote from the Guardian on the back describing Lafferty as ‘the most important science fiction writer you’ve never heard of’. Hopefully this newly assembled collection will go some way to remedying that situation. It contains 22 short stories, mostly dating from the 1960s and 70s, each w…

David Beerling - Four Way Interview

David Beerling is the Sorby Professor of Natural Sciences, and Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation at the University of Sheffield. His book The Emerald Planet (OUP, 2007) formed the basis of a major 3-part BBC TV series ‘How to Grow a Planet’. His latest title is Making Eden.

Why science?

I come from a non-academic background. None of my family, past or present, went to university, which may explain the following. In the final year of my degree in biological sciences at the University of Wales, Cardiff (around 1986), we all participated in a field course in mid-Wales, and I experienced an epiphany. I was undertaking a small research project on the population dynamics of bullheads (Cotus gobio), a common small freshwater fish, with a charismatic distinguished professor, and Fellow of the Royal Society in London. Under his guidance, I discovered the process of learning how nature works through the application of the scientific method. It was the most exciting t…