The Infinity Puzzle

  • by Frank Close
  • Narrated by Jonathan Cowley
  • 12 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The second half of the 20th century witnessed a scientific gold rush as physicists raced to chart the inner workings of the atom. The stakes were high, the questions were big, and there were Nobel Prizes and everlasting glory to be won. Many mysteries of the atom came unraveled, but one remained intractable: what Frank Close calls the "Infinity Puzzle".
The problem was simple to describe. Although clearly very powerful, quantum field theory - the great achievement of the 1930s - was making one utterly ridiculous prediction: that certain events had an infinite probability of occurring. The solution is known as renormalization, which enables theory to match what we see in the real world. It has been a powerful approach, conquering three of the four fundamental forces of nature, and giving rise to the concept of the Higgs boson, the now much-sought particle that may be what gives structure to the universe.
The Infinity Puzzle charts the birth and life of the idea, and the scientists, both household names and unsung heroes, who realized it. Based on numerous firsthand interviews and extensive research, the book captures an era of great mystery and greater discovery. Even if the Higgs boson is never found, renormalization - the pursuit of an orderly universe - has led to one of the richest and most productive intellectual periods in human history. With a physicist's expertise and a historian's care, Close describes the personalities and the competition, the dead ends and the sudden insights, in a story that will reverberate through the ages.


What the Critics Say

"An engrossing history that's also accessible for a general audience." (Publishers Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Succinct exposition

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 understand it and won't explain it to you again.

A large audience of people won't like this book. If you don't follow the physics as he introduces it, the narrative of the history will not be enough to entertain you. He only introduces the physics once and assumes you get it. He covers so much of modern physics he really doesn't have time to repeat his clear explanations more than once.

What I liked about this book he really filled in the details for what has happened since quantum mechanics was fully developed and the Large Hadron Collider has gone online. I had read many books on each and had mostly just walked away with that particles were very small. Now I have a very good feel for what's going on and why the Higgs boson is so important.

His last chapter was a marvelous summary of the book. I only wish he had summarized more of the physics after he explained difficult concepts more frequently.

I don't want to mislead. This book is a very difficult read. Some one with no real background in physics can follow it, but it requires ones full concentration. He covers the topics so well, I'll probably never have to read another history of that period of physics again for a long time.
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- Gary

As another reviewer notes...

this is not popular science. Some goodly knowledge of quantum mechanics, the problems it presents, the several challenges that have been made to the "standard model" and the search for the Higgs field (and what it does) are going to have to be brought to the table. This is by no means a criticism of the book. In fact, it is high praise. Close, while being meticulously precise and informative, does not coddle the reader. So if you are just beginning study in this field, begin elsewhere and then come later to this wonderfully informative and clarifying volume of modern science.
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- Douglas

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-28-2012
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio