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The Infinity Puzzle: How the Hunt to Understand the Universe Led to Extraordinary Science, High Politics, and the Large Hadron Collider
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The Infinity Puzzle: How the Hunt to Understand the Universe Led to Extraordinary Science, High Politics, and the Large Hadron Collider

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  454 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
We are living in a Golden Age of physics. With the mind of a scientist and the skill of a journalist, bestselling author and renowned physicist Frank Close gives us an insider's look at one of the most inspiring - and challenging - scientific breakthroughs of our time: the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

About 40 years ago, 3 brilliant, yet little-known scientists made bre
ebook, 400 pages
Published November 29th 2011 by Knopf Canada (first published October 27th 2011)
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I must say that this book left me a bit disappointed and quite underwhelmed: it is well written, very detailed when describing the historical evolution of modern particle physics, rich with anecdotal detail and also conceptually precise and lucid, but it simply does not contain enough actual physics.
On the positive side, some subjects of great interest are addressed by the author in a succinct, informative and clear way, accessible even to the novice (including items, like gauge field theories,
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
Close provided a history of quantum physics from QED and Feynman's diagrams to the hunt for the Higgs. I never get tired of Feynman's antics, and it's clear Frank Close doesn't either. Like so many other researchers with new and bold ideas, Feynman's new ideas associated with QED were not taken seriously. The debates were always very heated, so much so, that one time, Feynman gave up mid lecture (even though he was right!). He came back the next time with his (not yet) famous diagrams. But even ...more
Brian Clegg
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really important popular science book if you are interested in physics, because it covers some of the important bits of modern physics that most of us science writers are too afraid to write about. Starting with renormalization in QED, the technique used to get rid of the unwanted infinities that plagued the early versions of the theory and moving on to the weak force, the massive W and Z bosons, the Higgs business and the development of the concept of quarks and some aspects of the th ...more
This is a detailed history of the discoveries of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), and their unification into the Standard Model by spontaneous symmetry breaking and the Higgs mechanism. It's one of those people-driven histories of science, which can get boring if not petty at times. But overall, it tells an exciting story of this impressive achievement.

The central theme of the book is renormalization in Gauge Theory. The first half of the book introduces the reader to
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's almost not a wasted word in this book. If you blink while listening, you might lose track of the physics. The author is very good at writing a history of quantum science from QED to looking for the Higgs boson.

He uses the narrative of the scientific players to describe the physics. There is nothing of the physics or the math for which he does not explain before he talks about it. The problem is the author explains the physics at the moment of introduction than assumes that you will under
Long Nguyen
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are fascinated at all with recent (and by recent, I mean the latter half of the 20th century) development in physics, and the major players involved, then this book is for you. I am of the personal belief that even though science at its best is about the world, what makes science human is the people behind it. And they, like you or I, have feelings, aspirations, and interests. They also make mistakes, sometimes benign, sometimes tragic.

Despite my general knowledge, this book still has pla
Cassandra Kay Silva
This was definitely not what I thought it was going to be. It was more of a history of the various forerunners into the ideas that go behind much of theoretical physics and quantum field theory but contained very little science in it. Frankly I could care less who got noble prizes for what and who got shafted, I am more interested in the theories and current understanding itself which this book only slightly got into.
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe was published in late 2011, just as experimental physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) were homing in on the long-sought Higgs particle. In this book, British particle physicist Frank Close successfully meets two very difficult challenges.

First, Close provides a non-mathematical but honest account of the most important developments in theoretical elementary particle physics over the last several decades. It is
Ken Dilella
if you remove what was and what could be the book would be good. Re living the history again in another book was frustrating especially this one. Way too many names mentioned. Quantum field theory was mentioned twice despite it appearing on the front cover. I believe the author is a super symmetry theorist as that is mentioned many times throughout the book but without an endorsement. Very good descriptions of the Higgs boson (the book was written a year before the higgs "discovery") throughout ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last book I read, many years ago, on particle physics was called The Dancing Wu Li Masters, which was published back in 1979. Much has happened since then, and I picked this book to try to catch up on this interesting field of physics. But all of the concepts and ideas and terms discussed in this book (e.g. broken symmetry, Yang-Mills theory, SU(2) x U(1), gauge invariance, and many others) were a lot to grasp and appreciate for me. I think this is a good book, but I think you will like this ...more
Andy Yule
I found this book both hard going and fascinating.
It tells the story of the last 50 years of atomic physics, culminating in the building of the Large Hadron Collider to search for proof of the Highs boson.
The physics is sometimes rather hard to understand and the story of controversy over Nobel prizes is told very cautiously, I suspect with a conscious effort to avoid sensationalism.
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Really more interested in who deserves which Nobels than in explaining concepts or why they matter.
James Galloway
Books about the mathematics of quantum physics can sometimes have dull parts.
Bojan Tunguz
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since its completion in 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has been the focus of a lot of news coverage. It is by far the largest scientific project in history, and very likely the last such project for the foreseeable future. And yet, it has been fairly difficult to explain to the general public the exact purpose of LHC and what sorts of questions are the scientists trying to answer by culling over its experimental results. One of the things that LHC is trying to find is the putative ...more
Debsuvra Ghosh
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive chronological overview of how progresses were made in the field of particle physics spanning almost a century till 2010. The author collected extensive amount of information, interviewed people involved and sorted through that gargantuan heap of information like a human equivalent of CERN sorting through LHC data. A great title for people who's interested in the history of particle physics.
Feb 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
If your goal is to get an overview of modern physics from a historical perspective The Infinity Puzzle would nicely serve as one of two books to describe the second half of the 20th century (you would need another to cover gravitation and cosmology, perhaps A Brief History of Time). Frank Close, an English particle physicist, begins describing the infinity puzzle by taking up some of the logical holes left in quantum mechanics following its founding in the early 1900's. The reader is then lead t ...more
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Professor Close is a wonderful writer... he does a fine job of inserting and explaining some of the theoretical aspects of the science, without overwhelming us poor laymen.

This is a chronology of the theories of matter and the forces acting on matter.... to enjoy it you should have a basic notion what a quark is even if you cannot name the various types of quarks or explain how they do what they do, or how they do it.

He compares the role of the Higgs boson in giving matter its mass to the role o
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book is more about the discoverers, their machinations, wins and losses rather than the discoveries.

To be clearer, the author does track various QED discoveries of the sixties to the eighties. By not focussing on the first half of the twentieth century which mostly fills all the popular science books (no Einstein or Bohr etc here!), the author has a lot more to offer. Yet, the book implicitly presupposes its reader to be extremely well-acquainted with the complex subject. One is required to
Adam Zabell
Apr 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Solid history lesson on why we built the LHC, and the vagaries of science-in-practice instead of science-as-mythology.

Like many "first person pop sci" books (aka "The Double Helix"), this one builds to a climax. Here, it's when Gerard 't Hooft made a 10 minute presentation on his math showing you could renormalize Yang–Mills Fields and thus bring the weak force into the fold with the electromagnetic. What was unique here, and which I really liked, is how the last third of the book continues the
May 26, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book is really just about the history of quantum field theories. It describes the men who made the discoveries and how each one contributed his piece to the final edifice. It does not really bother trying to explain what quantum field theory is or what it means. This is a departure from the author's other books I have read previously (Neutrino and Antimatter)). Perhaps this is because the nature of quantum field theory is too technical to be amenable to a non-technical presentation.

Matt Heavner
This book was about 25% interesting physics with a few very good explanations I hadn't heard before. I like the liquid water / snowflake symmetry breaking example quite a bit. That's the upside to this book.

The downside was that 75% of the book was a "cult of personality" / history minutia / repetitive discussions about the Nobel prize. Yes, the Nobel prize is a big deal. But I'd be interested to do a word count on this book: I bet the common words (the, a, an, and) do their usual distribution,
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Excellent history of late 20th century elementary physics, especially from about 1946 through 1979, while the Standard Model of particle physics was being developed, from quantum electrodynamics (QED) through the Higgs mechanism through electroweak unification, though also extending through the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) era. I found it utterly fascinating, but it may be a bit esoteric for some. This is a history book, not a physics book, so there's little to no math, though it does explain the ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating history of how physicists achieved a unified understanding of most of the forces of nature in the last half-century or so. The book attempts to convey some of this understanding to non-specialists but also explains why it did not come easily. The question of renormalization, ie, proving that the theories would lead to finite and meaningful results, motivates the title of the book. The author also devotes a lot of space to the human story and the thorny questions of who had priority ...more
Chris Davies
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an intriguing canter through many of the particle physics discoveries of the last fifty years. It is also a fascinating account of the personalities and politics behind these discoveries. Whilst Close pulls a few punches, it is clear that the world of physics is not all like minded boffins marching harmoniously onwards.

The accounts of some of the feuds and arguments between scientists form the most entertaining parts of the book and are well described. Close even turns detective at poin
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting book about how the 4 powers of Quantum Physics were all brought into the current 'Standard Model'. Similar to Fermat's Enigma, this book follows the scientists who made the major breakthroughs over 70+ years that have coalesced into the invention of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

This book does a good job of explaining how the 'infinity problem' of Quantum Electrodynamics was resolved with renormalization for electromagnetism, quarks for the strong force and bosons for the weak fo
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully readable account of the events, the science, which eventually led to the construction of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for The Boson. More than being a typical pop-science book, The Infinity Puzzle offers a look into how the theory of electro-weak interactions came about and the people involved (and those whom you thought weren't involved). At times it almost reads like an homage to those deserving individuals who missed winning the Nobel Prize for various reasons. Frank ...more
Chris Lewis
What I didn't realize going into The Infinity Puzzle was that the author's purpose in writing it was not so much to educate a lay audience about quantum mechanics; rather, it was to clear up various fuzzy bits in the history of quantum discoveries through the 20th century. So while I was happy to learn a lot of details about the Standard Model and its construction, I wasn't so interested in the details of who published what paper when, and what conversations they had about who discovered things ...more
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a pretty good book about the history of particle physics late 1940s to about 2010. It's a pretty interesting read and does help one get a better understand that science isn't always a smooth progression from start to finish. It also gives you a feel for the types of rivalries, political pressures, and personalities can get entwined with the endeavours of understanding the universe.

Necessarily to understand the progression of physics, the author regularly goes into some detail trying to p
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Very interesting history of the making of Quantum Field Theory, and the role that various people played in it (with a special role for my fellow Dutch 't Hooft). Both the people/stories are discussed, as are the theories themselves, as much as they can be explained without too much math/physics for those of us who are not quantum physicists.

The writer is a theoretical physicist who worked during the times the theory was formed, and knows the people, and complements his memories with interviews
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun and interesting book on the history of particle physics. As a professional in the field, I can attest that the usual, formal physics education is full of lore and urban legends about how we figured out what we think we know, but Close provides a lot of perspective and new information here. The Infinity Puzzle is definitely worth reading for history buffs or fans of science. It's one failing as a history text is the lack of any attempt to tie the narrative into a broader picture of ...more
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Updated Universe Comprehension... 1 5 Feb 17, 2012 02:11AM  
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Francis Edwin Close (Arabic: فرانك كلوس)

In addition to his scientific research, he is known for his lectures and writings making science intelligible to a wider audience.

From Oxford he went to Stanford University in California for two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow on the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. In 1973 he went to the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire and then to CERN in Switzerland fro
More about Frank Close...

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“Alpha sets the scale of nature -- the size of atoms and all things made of them, the intensity and colors of light, the strength of magnetism, and the metabolic rate of life itself. It controls everything that we see. ... In 137, apparently, science had found Nature's PIN Code.” 1 likes
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