Skip to main content

Higgs – Jim Baggott *****

Whenever someone famous dies or there’s a major royal event you will see a book arrive in the shops with undue haste. It’s hard to imagine it wasn’t thrown together with minimum effort – and with equally minimal quality. So when I saw that Jim Baggott had produced a book on the Higgs boson all of five weeks after the likely detection was announced following several years work by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, it seemed likely that this too was a botched rush job. But the reality is very different.
In one sense it has to be a rushed job – the announcement was made on 4 July 2012 and the book was out by mid-August, featuring said announcement. So that bit of the book could hardly have had much time for careful editing, bearing in mind publishers usually take at least a couple of months from final versions of the text to having a physical book. (Much of the rest of the book was written well in advance.) But the remarkable trick that Baggott and OUP have pulled off is that the rush doesn’t show. This is an excellent book throughout.
The first, but probably not most important way it’s great is that it provides by far the best explanation of what the Higgs field is and how it is thought to work (and what the Higgs boson has to do with anything) I’ve seen – and that by a long margin. However, for me it’s not so much that, as the way it provides a superb introduction to the development of the standard model of particle physics, our current best guess of what everything’s made of. Again, this is the best I’ve ever read and yet it’s here just as a setting for the Higgs business. It is really well done, and the book deserves a wide readership for that alone, not to mention the way it puts the Higgs into context.
Is it perfect? Well, no. Like every other book I’ve read on the subject it falls down on making the linkage between the mathematics of symmetry and the particle physics comprehensible. That is immensely difficult to do, but ought to be possible. However, as long as you take some of the symmetry stuff on trust, the rest works superbly well.
Congratulations, then, to author and publisher alike. Both in its timing and its content this is a tour de force. Recommended.

Hardback 

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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

The Lost Planets - John Wenz **

Reading the first few lines of the introduction to this book caused a raised eyebrow. In 1600, it tells us, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake 'for his radical views - that not only was the Sun just one of many stars, but those stars likely had planets around them as well.' Unfortunately, this bends the truth. Bruno was burned at the stake for holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith - for conventional heretical beliefs amongst which his ideas on cosmology were trivial. This was an unfortunate start.

What John Wenz gives us is a people-driven story of the apparent early discovery of a number of planets orbiting other stars, made by Peter van de Kamp and his colleagues at Swarthmore College in America, most notably connected to a relatively obscure star called Barnard's star. Wenz is at his best dealing with personal conflict. The book really comes alive in a middle section where van de Kamp's discoveries are starting to be challenged. This chapter works wel…

Bone Silence (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

Of all the best modern SF writers, Alastair Reynolds is arguably the supreme successor to the writers of the golden age. He gives us wide-ranging vision, clever concepts and rollicking adventure - never more so than with his concluding book of the Ness sisters trilogy.

Neatly, after the first title, Revenger was written from the viewpoint of one sister, Arafura and the second, Shadow Captain, had the other sister Adrana as narrator, this book is in the third person. It neatly ties up many of the loose ends from the previous books, but also leaves vast scope for revelations to cover in the future if Reynolds decides to revisit this world (he comments in his acknowledgements 'I am, for the time being, done with the Ness sisters. Whether they are done with me remains to be seen.')

As with the previous books, the feel here is in some ways reminiscent of the excellent TV series Firefly, but with pirates rather than cowboys transported into a space setting. Set millions of years in…