A history of particle physics

Higgs: The invention and discovery of the ‘God Particle’

Unfortunately, I cannot rate this book as anything better than disappointing. There was a lot of interest in here but ultimately the book falls down because it is neither an explanation of the physics behind the “Higgs mechanism” nor a pure history of the development of the theory (which it, rather annoyingly, insists on calling its “invention”).

For example, we get a brief mention of group theory and a consistent naming of various symmetry groups throughout the book but even the more mathematically inclined reader (ie me) is left almost totally in the dark about what SU(3) is.

Similarly, the explanation of symmetry breaking is more confusing than illuminating.

That said, towards the end the book does get very interesting as it explains that the mechanism – as opposed to the particle detected at CERN – could lie at the heart of not just electro-weak unification, but of a grand unified theory that encompasses the strong force also.

But here’s another thing that confused me – it turns out that, after all, most visible matter really is energy – in the form of gluons. But where do these gluons (which are made to sound a bit like perpetual motion machines in the book) get their mass from? Is it from a Higgs mechanism? I am just not clear…

And finally, is there anything more annoying in popular discussion of physics that the term “God particle”? Frankly, that almost put me off buying this book in the first place.


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