Thursday, 26 March 2009

Antimatter – Frank Close ****

I like this little book. Regular readers of my reviews will know that ‘little’ isn’t an insult – there’s nothing worse than a bloated, over-inflated popular science book. This one delivers the goods on the subject without resorting to endless padding. The subject in question is antimatter, which Frank Close covers with just enough context – particular the US Air Force’s interest in antimatter weapons, and Dan Brown’s awful antimatter-based thriller Angels and Demons – to keep the reader interested.
It’s a bit of a Brief History of Time kind of book. Before Dr Close gets all excited and waits for the royalties to come crashing in, I don’t really mean that I expect it to have the same kind of popularity of ABHoT, but rather it has the same tendency to plunge into just a bit too much depth and not necessarily to explain the science in a way that comes across well to the uninitiated. Having said that, there is some good writing here explaining why antimatter is so important and how the Big Bang could have result in mostly matter.
Even if you know a bit about antimatter, there are some surprises. And what’s lovely is the way the book really thinks about the practicalities of antimatter. You can’t store antiatoms, for instance, because they aren’t charged, so you can’t keep them in an electromagnetic container away from matter. But you can’t have billions of positrons or antiprotons in the same place either, because they repel each other. I wasn’t clear why you can’t use an anti-plasma – I wish that had been covered.
The presentation is just a touch dry – this is very obviously a book written by an academic who is trying hard to be populist but not quite making it – which is why it only gets four stars rather than five. And I don’t think he does any favours by suggesting that many people seriously think the Tunguska fireball was antimatter. But it’s a really interesting book that stretches the brain and that is packed with glowing little antimatter nuggets.
Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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