Higgs Force: The Symmetry- Breaking Force that Makes the World an Interesting Place
Author: Nicholas Mee
Publisher: The Lutterworth Press
Price: Hardback GBP25.00, Paperback GBP15.00, Kindle edition GBP7.20
Available from Amazon
Every so often, physics gets sexy. The Big Bang and black holes regularly grab the headlines, and, more recently, something else has become the latest scientific superstar – the ‘God particle’. The search for this subatomic fleck has captured the public’s imagination unlike anything since Albert Einstein. But ask anyone what it actually is and you’re guaranteed a tumbleweed moment.
Enter Nicholas Mee, a particle physicist from Cambridge University. Higgs Force: The Symmetry-Breaking Force that Makes the World an Interesting Place, his first book, aims to do for the Higgs boson what Stephen Hawking did for the black hole. Higgs Force sets to bring particle physics to the masses, as A Brief History of Timetaught the world about space and time.
It’s a tall order. Modern physics is steeped in complex ideas and befuddling theories. If we’re honest, Stephen Hawking’s ten-million- copy-selling book sits unread on many bookshelves: few of us have managed to get past chapter nine. Realising this, Mee takes a different tack, opting to depict an historical narrative through a textbook format. Starting in ancient Greece, he charts the intriguing characters that have shaped our present understanding of the world. There’s no shirking on detail: perplexing logical puzzles are dotted throughout to keep the reader apace with the lofty concepts covered.
Higgs Force is a noble effort. Atoms, electrons and quarks are brought to life using metaphors and colourful language. Nevertheless, by page 100, non-academics may be scratching their heads, confused and feeling as if their head is in an isospin (physicist joke). Mee reassures the perplexed by quoting fellow physicist Richard Feynman:
“You think I’m going to explain it to you so you can understand it? You’re not going to be able to… My physics students don’t understand it either. That’s because I don’t understand [particle physics]. Nobody does.”
Higgs Force is a book that does not try to make you a physics expert, nor even particle physics competent. It offers a humble insight into a discipline that few people understand, equipping the reader with enough insight to explain the ‘God particle’ to impress friends. However, the book’s greatest strength is not in the science, but the vivid depictions of the story’s characters, who are as varied as the subatomic principles they discovered. Michael Faraday, the unschooled prodigy who invented the electric motor; Paul Dirac, the genius whose traumatic childhood left him virtually speechless; and Robert Wilson, the American artist-turned-physicist with the charisma to lead soldiers to war.
Higgs Force is an accomplished and engaging read. Be advised: it isn’t for the faint-hearted and a high-school physics education is a prerequisite. Lively biographies keep the pages turning in a way most popular science books fail to do. It reveals to the lay reader the importance of the Large Hadron Collider, the beauty of the natural laws and the riddle of Higgs. And it’ll likely be finished before that ageing copy of A Brief History of Time
Official Higgs Force website: www.higgsforce.co.uk
Congratulations to Pete Aighton, E. Parker and Alex Brown who were the winners of our Higgs Force book competition! You bagged yourselves a free copy, you lucky things…