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Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  1,292 ratings  ·  110 reviews
From one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, a rousing defense of the role of science in our lives

The latest developments in physics have the potential to radically revise our understanding of the world: its makeup, its evolution, and the fundamental forces that drive its operation. Knocking on Heaven’s Door is an exhilarating and accessible overvi
ebook, 480 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Ecco (first published 2011)
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Feb 27, 2014 David rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Gendou
Shelves: physics, science
Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist at Harvard University. She is well known for her research in high-energy physics. You can view a video of Jon Stewart interviewing Randall on The Daily Show. She is a very articulate speaker, and her writing is crystal clear.

The book is divided into five parts. The first part explores the philosophy of science, and gets into some aspects of the science-vs.-religion debate. Randall notes that some people turn to religion for answers that science cannot yet
Ben Babcock
I love physics. I love that we know so much about physics, and that we still have so much left to learn! I love reading about how far we have come from Ptolemaic ideas of geocentricity to mapping the cosmic microwave background radiation itself. And don’t get me started about the Large Hadron Collider: 7 TeV? Really? Up to 14 TeV in the next few years? Various atrocious self-help books claim they’ll help you unlock “the secrets of the universe”. The scientists and engineers at CERN are quite lit ...more
Eminent theoretical physicist Lisa Randall regards her new book "Knocking on Heaven's Door" as a "prequel" to her earlier "Warped Passages". But it is much more than that, as a clearly written statement by a distinguished scientist explaining how science works to an interested, if substantially scientific illiterate, public. While there are other books, such as those written by her high school and college classmate, physicist Brian Greene, which emphasize the state-of-the-art thinking in theoret ...more
What I don’t know about particle physics amounts to an enormous trove of data. Before reading this book, I had no idea just how much I didn’t know. Now, however, I have a much better idea about what the parameters of what I don’t know might be. I can’t visualize them, but through the process of examining what I do know, the conspicuous absences in the shadows of my knowledge subtly hint at vast deserts of unknowable terrain. Fluctuations of confusion, blackness, and chaos are sometimes the only ...more
Todd Martin
I’m not sure how this book came about, but it’s the kind of mish-mash that suggests the work of a committee. First, there’s the title Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, which bears no resemblance to the content of the book. Then, there’s the subject matter itself. The book begins with an overly involved discussion of scale, and how scientists select the scale of their observations depending on the type of phenomenon they a ...more
I will admit defeat. As much as I love popular physics books I just cannot bear to finish this one. The author is obviously brilliant, knows her field well, and has an infectious enthusiasm for science. Unfortunately, she seems to have fallen into the trap that some brilliant people do: she assumes her intelligence and acumen in the field of physics means that her insights outside of that field are similarly brilliant. Alas, this is not so. Repeatedly, she discusses the financial world and does ...more
Ahmed Al  Araby
انتهيت من قراءة كتاب الطرق على أبوب السماء - ليزا راندل ، هو أكثر كتاب بسط لى فيزياء الجسيمات ، الكتاب أسلوبه سهل جداً وسلس رغم صعوبة موضوعاته فموضوعاته هى بلا شك أصعب موضوعات توصل لها العلم قاطبة

الكتاب يشرح تجربة سيرن بالتفصيل ولا يشرح أغراض تجربة سيرن فقط ولكنه أيضاً يشرح التركيب الفنى لتجربة سيرن والعقبات التى قابلتها والحوادث التى حصلت والمخاوف ، وآليات إكتشاف الجسيمات الجديدة والمعروفة فى تجربة سيرن

من الأشياء التى لفتت نرى أن درجة حرارة تجربة سيرن هى أعلى من الصفر المطلق بدرجتين تقريباً
Once I had a guitar. I worked really, really hard on learning how to play, but never got the hang of it. I put it away. Ten years later I took it out of the closet, thinking to myself, I've been listening to a lot of music, and it's been ten years, I should be much better at this. That's right, I wasn't.

I'm interested in cosmology and physics in much the same way I'm interested in Buddhism, and a bit more than I was actually interested in the guitar. Let's take Buddhism first. I've read lots of
Matt Heavner
This was quite a mish-mash of topics and quality. I really enjoyed some of the super-symmetry/particle physics discussion. The LHC motivation/justification seemed to be the main topic of this book, however, my impression was that this really should have been broken up into three or four separate books. There was some good physics and LHC background motivation. There was a totally disconnected chapter on the financial crises and climate change. There was a good proportion of this book on the phil ...more
There seems to be two objectives to this book: the nature of science and its relationship with religion and beauty and the creativity that lies at its core; and the present state of particle physics and the roll the Large Hadron Collider will play going forward. Her meditations on the nature of science are welcome and thoughtful. She articulates passionately the beauty of the scientific method and the importance of scale.

Next she gives us great insights into particle physics with an easy to foll
Nathan Kibler
I don't give many books five stars before I read them in their entirety, but I am so impressed with Lisa Randall and her philosophical arguments in the first part of this very timely book. Namely she tackles the issue of religious thinking vs. scientific thinking head on.

While she is clearly prejudiced in favor of the latter, being an honored Theoretical Physicist and Professor, she covers many salient points that concern both and manages to assert her understandings of the arguments without be
Bob Nichols
This is a disappointing book. The collection of the author's thoughts about the role of science and many of the key insights of physics seem repetitive of what has been said before. A good part of the book is about the Higgs boson and the Large Hadron Collider. That presentation was heavy on jargon and detail, and light on why all of this is significant for the non-expert reader, although it's probably excellent for those who want to get a full story on the Collider. The organization of the book ...more
Lisa Randall is a tenured Harvard physicist, no mean accomplishment. She has become a bit of a personality figure, partly because she is a woman in a man's profession, partly because she is an attractive woman in a man's profession, and partly because (rumor has it) she is a lesbian woman in a man's profession. Whatever!

The book is about the need for a new model of particles--the Standard Model ignores gravity and contains restrictions that make little sense. Randall reviews some basic aspects o
David Rubin
Lisa Randall's book is another attempt in a long line of books about contemporary physics which is aimed at the interested buy not scientifically educated public. It must be extremely difficult to explain highly sophisticated, highly-mathematically oriented concepts to the lay reader while maintaining his or her interest. We should thank these brilliant and gifted scientists for making the effort to help us understand these often non-intuitive concepts without the use of the difficult math which ...more
This book introduces the reader to some of the recent research in the field of fundamental physics, with an emphasis on the now-constructed Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland. The author's enthusiasm and excitement for this new system is apparent on every page. As she correctly describes the LHC as simultaneously the world's most advanced and sophisticated machine, and also its largest in physical extent. It is certainly the most remarkable scientific instrument ever created, a ...more
This "prequel" to Randall's other book, Warped Passages, is quite good.
Her writing style is (thankfully) much improved.
She talks a lot about scale and model dependent realism.

She tactfully tackles the topic of religion vs. science.
Her thesis is that these activities involve incompatible brain processes.
It's a neat insight, but she avoids stomping on religion's plethora of poor predictions.

My wife and I played a drinking game where we took a shot every time the book uses the word "phenomena".
We g
Jonas Adler
I have to admit that I'm really not sure who this book is for. It is written very simply overall which makes me assume it is for the general public. However, the author includes complicated scientific details without explaining them thoroughly. I have a BS in physics and I know enough to understand what she describes IF she gave enough information. I was also annoyed by her incessant name dropping and how much she talked about her accomplishments. In general I have no problem with an author talk ...more
A nice summary of recent happenings at the LHC and, through that, a survey of contemporary physics. Randall's got an interesting perspective on the intersection of particle physics and cosmology, two topics which have fascinated me since I was a teenager, and this is a good overview of where those fields stand.

Randall intersperses the book with her thoughts on creativity and science-thinking, which I appreciated as she touches on the disparity between theory and data that underlies so many publ
This was interesting and generally pretty clear in describing some physics that is just ridiculously complex. Randall is a serious theoretical physicist and brings a good first hand view of what such people actually do with the LHC and what they hope to do next. It's topical just now because of the Higgs and she goes into just what the Higgs is and what it means. At the time of writing the Higgs had not been announced, of course, but reading this helped me understand the announcement much better ...more
My rating has less to do with any recommendation for this book but more of my own personal reaction to it. In terms of recommendation, I recommend this book highly to those who want to know more about particle physics and the Higgs-Boson business and a thing or two about scientific thought. For my own purposes, I found Simon Singh's Big Bang theory much more enlightening in terms of how scientific thought progresses. Lisa Randall is much more contemporary with her content, of course, but this bo ...more
Zach Freeman
Well-written but gets a little too detailed in Physics (I know this is written for the layman but maybe I'm slower than I thought...). The parts that discuss the differences in how science and religion view and interpret the world are interesting but when it gets into the Large Hadron Collider my eyes glaze over. I think reading the comic strip xkcd is the closest I will get to being able to read, comprehend and enjoy information about physics.
Karl W.
Nice overview of the aims, means, achievements, and open questions associated with contemporary particle physics and comsomology, with an emphais on work being done at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. To get the most from this book you should first read Randall's "Warped Passages," which is technically and stylistically more demanding of the reader; however, "Knocking on Heaven's Door" can still be appreciated as a stand-alone volume.
Scott Moore
I really enjoyed this book: I'd love to give it 5 stars but three things prevent it for me:

(1) I didn't understand the narrative flow, although I enjoyed each chapter. I couldn't quite follow the thread, robbing me of the final satisfaction of seeing it "all come together". Maybe the chapters weren't intended to build on each other (much) and I only imagined that they should?

(2) In several cases, I *almost* understood the physics but wished that she had used just one more example, or substituted
Particle physics has always fascinated me and Lisa Randall has taught me more about that than I would have thought possible. But much more than that, but she explores elements of the history of physics and gave me a new way of looking at how we got to where we are today. Very timely too with the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson. I will be reading more from her.
Gerald Lizee
Fantastic voyage through current science

Professor Randall is one of the most brilliant scientist of our times. In her book, she invites us to accompany her in the numerous theoretical searches in which she has been and still is involved. She is at the forefront of current science : theories and models underlying large hadron collider (LHC) experiments, dark matter, dark energy, particles masses, Higgs boson, extradimensions.

Her presentation of LHC in Geneva is the most comprehensive I have ever
I wish Lisa Randall would write more book, but I guess she is too busy climbing mountains and doing particle physics. This book answered many questions I had about particle accelerators, and how they do what they do. It is an easy read, and very approachable. I have a to-do now to go back to her previous work and read that one too.
I found the writing style very off-putting with its chit-chatty name-dropping: I have a third cousin who knows an NBA player named Noah who is tall, and I will use that to talk about scale for the fiftieth time, because tallness is a good example of what scale is not about. ?????????????? If the idea is that this will entice someone about to read People or check a gossip website to instead learn about science, then that's a good thing. Beyond that, I don't know who this book is for, but it's not ...more
Aug 09, 2011 Deb marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
reviewed in Discover Magazine. In this lucid dissection of the scientific method from Galileo to string theory, physicist Lisa Randall of Harvard University charts the relentless efforts to understand the fundamental construction of the universe.
Bill Leach
Average chapters on general philosophy interspersed with excellent chapters on the LHC. The details of the LHC and detectors are terrific and the discussion on the Higgs boson and where it is leading is very good.
Eugene Novikov
This is a long and rather tedious book that attempts to use cutting-edge research in particle physics and cosmology to frame a wide-ranging discussion about the principles underlying scientific inquiry. Randall's prose comes alive when she delves into the science (as she did in much more detail in the far superior "Warped Passages"), and if you're a pop-physics wonk this is probably worth reading just for the thorough description of how the Large Hadron Collider actually works, but there's also ...more
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LISA RANDALL is Professor of Physics at Harvard University. She began her physics career at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. She was a finalist, and tied for first place, in the National Westinghouse Science Talent Search. She went on to Harvard where she earned the BS (1983) and PhD (1987) in physics. She was a President's Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, a postdoctoral ...more
More about Lisa Randall...
Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space 異次元は存在する Eventing Explained Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe

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“Despite my resistance to hyperbole, the LHC belongs to a world that can only be described with superlatives. It is not merely large: the LHC is the biggest machine ever built. It is not merely cold: the 1.9 kelvin (1.9 degrees Celsius above absolute zero) temperature necessary for the LHC’s supercomputing magnets to operate is the coldest extended region that we know of in the universe—even colder than outer space. The magnetic field is not merely big: the superconducting dipole magnets generating a magnetic field more than 100,000 times stronger than the Earth’s are the strongest magnets in industrial production ever made.

And the extremes don’t end there. The vacuum inside the proton-containing tubes, a 10 trillionth of an atmosphere, is the most complete vacuum over the largest region ever produced. The energy of the collisions are the highest ever generated on Earth, allowing us to study the interactions that occurred in the early universe the furthest back in time.”
“[The ceremonial key to the city of Padua] is engraved with a quote from Galileo that is also on display at the physics department of the university...'I deem it of more value to find out a truth about however light a matter than to engage in long disputes about the greatest questions without achieving any truth.” 5 likes
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