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smashing physicsThis is an amazing book on the journey leading up to the discovery of the Higgs boson. I have always been fascinated by Physics and have eagerly followed (or tried to, with my limited understanding!) the developments in particle physics theories and the experimental results. The search for the Higgs boson has been in the works for a long time, but the interest levels accelerated since the opening of the Large Hadron Collider in 2009. Jon Butterworth is an experimental scientist who has been associated with the collider and its search from the start, so in this fascinating book he takes us on the journey leading to the culmination of the search and the formal announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson in the summer of 2012.

The book provides a view of the theory & data that existed prior to the LHC’s commissioning, then a step by step and ringside view of the progress made between 2010 and 2012. Along this journey, Jon describes the theories and the experiments using (close to) layman terms & analogies where possible. I will not claim that I followed every word and every aspect of the sub-atomic world of hadrons, fermions, quarks, matter and anti-matter, QCD & QED, etc but at a broad level it is hard not to get a small feel for the sense of excitement that the author tries to convey. Even for someone who is not a hard-core physics person, this book should be a fascinating read – some of the sections may be a bit “heavy” – but if one persists and refers to offline (or online) content referred in the book, it is possible to get a glimpse of the incredibly complex science behind this discovery.

One of the criticisms of this book is the amount of personal narrative that the author has put in – space that could’ve been filled up with science – but I view that as a way for readers – lay readers – to connect with the human persona of the scientists who are engaged at the cutting edge of high-energy physics research. In that, this book does a wonderful job.

Also, one book is never enough to understand the continuous search for new physics. Theories abound so every such book is a step towards establishing a better and clearer picture in our minds. Again, in that direction, this book is a fantastic view of what the LHC did and why it did what it did.

Smashing Physics is a well-deserved contender for the Science Book award from the Royal Society’s Winton Prize for books on science. That alone is a good reason to buy and read this book.

 

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What a fascinating and enjoyable book this is! The periodic table is something that we all learn about first in school and then for most of us, its relegated to a corner of the brain hardly ever figuring in our daily lives.
We know the table exists but it barely registers on the surface. In this brilliant book, Sam Kean brings it back with a bang and takes us on a journey across the rows and down the columns of the table, giving us a view of its history, how the table got its present shape and the elements that make it up. In the process, we are re-introduced to the elements, their characteristics & general properties, how they relate & intermingle with other elements, what makes them interesting or unique, etc. The chapters in the book group elements by properties that we can relate to, for instance their use in money or in medicine. The author has also avoided repeating the same elements in chapters, so each chapter presents a new set of stories & incidents around a fresh set of elements. Sam Kean’s writing style is light, easy & witty and he avoids getting into too much technical detail, so the lay person who last came across the periodic table in school can still enjoy this book and share the thrill of the early chemists & scientists in their discoveries & inventions.

This book deservedly made it to the shortlist for the Royal Society’s award for Science books in 2011.

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