“Massive – The Hunt for the God Particle”
Quantum Physics, as far as I am aware, is regarded as a rather difficult subject to communicate to a lay-audience. However, I’m pleased to report that Ian Sample manages to do just that extremely well in this book. The secret of Sample’s success seems to stem from the fact that he admits that the Higgs Boson is not something he understood before writing the book; and so had to undertake a serious learning exercise. Thanks to his ability to communicate this learning process so lucidly is, for me, the main reason why this book was such a pleasant read.
The book is split into distinct sections, each dealing with a particular area regarding the hunt for the elusive particle. What I particularly liked is that each of these sections had a very clear-cut aim. The first part of the book contains explanations of scientific jargon (such as mass and matter), what question the Higgs Boson was trying to answer, why that question was being asked and the various key stages that have been gone through in order to try and discover the Higgs Boson.
The second part of the book deals with the history of the development of particle accelerators; from the very first one that could fit comfortably into a small room, right up to The Large Hadron Collider. As this development is explained the reader is introduced to the discovery of various elementary particles, such as the W and Z particles, as well as various theories and discoveries; such as supersymmetry and the electroweak force. Each of these is explained with impressive simplicity and clarity that should in no way leave the lay-reader feeling overawed.
The book also offers brief introductions to many of the personalities who allowed scientific research to arrive at the brink (at the time of publication) of discovering the Higgs Boson. Their individual trials and tribulations, which along with the various internal and external political machinations that occur during scientific research, provide the reader with an excellent appreciation of just how difficult major scientific discoveries are to accomplish. Indeed, the whole book provides great support for the argument that progress in science, like a lot of other areas, is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
The book also contains sections on allaying any apocalypse-based fears surrounding tremendously powerful particle accelerators and what research doors a successful discovery of the Higgs Boson would open. The second of these provides a fascinating glimpse of what the future may hold; and now that we have officially discovered (one type of) Higgs Boson, then maybe these possibilities now lie one step closer.
Overall this is an excellent read that manages to bring Quantum Physics to life; and is capable of bringing any reader, regardless of specialist knowledge or not, pretty well up-to-date with the latest in particle research. The writing is extremely clear and the use of some excellent analogies should help to make a topic that causes a lot of people to recoil in fear; come back out into the light – Highly recommended.