Saturday, 30 August 2014

Introducing Particle Physics – Tom Whyntie & Oliver Pugh ***

I’ve long been a fan of the massive ‘Introducing’ series of graphic guides and even contributed one (Introducing Infinity) with the excellent Oliver Pugh. They provide an easy-to-digest overview of a topic, using pages that are dominated by illustrations that often remind me of Terry Gilliam’s work on Monty Python, combined with speech bubbles and small chunks of text to get the message across.
Some work better than others and for me, Introducing Particle Physics was a mixed experience. I don’t doubt that Tom Whyntie had a huge challenge to face. Whole chunks of particle physics are, frankly rather dull, while other parts are amongst the most difficult to explain in all of physics. Really making symmetry breaking and the whole Higgs business comprehensible (rather than putting it across at the trite level the news correspondents managed) is very difficult, and I’m not sure that Whyntie manages it. I suspect as someone working in the field he is too close to it to really understand why everyone else finds it so daunting.
The other problem I had was that I found the text rather too dense and not hugely readable in places. But having said all that, given the problems of getting across this subject there is no doubt at all that this format makes for one of the most approachable attempts I’ve seen. Bearing in mind that to explain particle physics, Whyntie also has to pull in chunks of quantum physics and nuclear physics it’s quite a tour-de-force that this book was ever written at all. So don’t expect everything about particle physics to suddenly become crystal clear – but this will certainly help fill in a lot of the background before, perhaps, reading a more detailed book on the subject.
Review by Brian Clegg

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