Skip to main content

Introducing Particle Physics – Tom Whyntie & Oliver Pugh ***

I’ve long been a fan of the massive ‘Introducing’ series of graphic guides and even contributed one (Introducing Infinity) with the excellent Oliver Pugh. They provide an easy-to-digest overview of a topic, using pages that are dominated by illustrations that often remind me of Terry Gilliam’s work on Monty Python, combined with speech bubbles and small chunks of text to get the message across.
Some work better than others and for me, Introducing Particle Physics was a mixed experience. I don’t doubt that Tom Whyntie had a huge challenge to face. Whole chunks of particle physics are, frankly rather dull, while other parts are amongst the most difficult to explain in all of physics. Really making symmetry breaking and the whole Higgs business comprehensible (rather than putting it across at the trite level the news correspondents managed) is very difficult, and I’m not sure that Whyntie manages it. I suspect as someone working in the field he is too close to it to really understand why everyone else finds it so daunting.
The other problem I had was that I found the text rather too dense and not hugely readable in places. But having said all that, given the problems of getting across this subject there is no doubt at all that this format makes for one of the most approachable attempts I’ve seen. Bearing in mind that to explain particle physics, Whyntie also has to pull in chunks of quantum physics and nuclear physics it’s quite a tour-de-force that this book was ever written at all. So don’t expect everything about particle physics to suddenly become crystal clear – but this will certainly help fill in a lot of the background before, perhaps, reading a more detailed book on the subject.

Paperback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …