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The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll

How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World

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The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll

Cover of the book The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll

Dutton/Penguin Group

The Book's Science

This book is a comprehensive look at the search for the Higgs boson and the Large Hadron Collider. The book carefully documents the work by particle physicists (and others) over the last several decades, which lead them to believe that the conjecture put forward by Peter Higgs (and others) in the 1960's are probably true:

There is an energy field (called the Higgs field) that permeates space and which particles gain mass by interacting with.

In addition to exploring the scientific details behind this model, Carroll also goes through the details of the history of particle accelerators, up through the design, construction, and operation of the Large Hadron Collider. (One of my favorite stories from this part of the book was about how an underwater river that was causing havoc with the excavation work finally got dealt with. According to Carroll: "The construction team came up with a very physics-like solution: They sank pipes into the ground and filled them with liquid nitrogen, freezing the water into ice and giving the diggers solid ground to work with.")

In the midst of researching this book at the time, Carroll was superbly situated to explain the path of investigation that led to the July 4, 2012, announcement that the Large Hadron Collider research teams had discovered evidence of the Higgs boson. In addition to explaining the evidence, he also goes on to describe the possible advanced scientific theory that could extend "beyond the Higgs," such as string theory and supersymmetry. (As of the time of this writing, evidence is suggesting that the Higgs boson discovered so far is the most "boring" variety, so these speculations are not yet being realized.)

Advanced particle physics research isn't always the most accessible subject on the planet. Carroll does an extremely good job of presenting the information in a way that doesn't the science behind too much jargon, but I do think it might pose some challenges to readers who aren't familiar with at least the vaguest outlines of particle physics already. However, if you're a fan of books by the likes of Brian Greene, Michio Kaku, or other popular science writers, then this would be an excellent resource for understanding the ins and outs of the current search for the Higgs boson and where it might lead.

The Book's Specifications

Publisher: Dutton/Penguin Group
Publication Date: Nov. 13, 2012
Pages: 341

  • Prologue
  • Thirteen Chapters, including 16 pages of glossy color photos and images
  • Three Appendices: "Mass and Spin," "Standard Model Particles," and "Particles and Their Interactions"
  • Further Reading
  • References
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

The Book's Quotes

Modern physics at the cutting edge involves projects that cost billions of dollars and take decades to complete, requiring extraordinary devotion and a willingness to bet high stakes in search of unique rewards. When it all comes together, the world changes.

We take for granted the idea that matter is made of atoms.... It's easy to lose sight of how amazing that fact is. Some things are hard, some are soft; some things are light, some are heavy; some things are liquid, some are solid, some are gas; some things are transparent, some are opaque; some things are alive, some are not. But beneath the surface, all these things are really the same kind of stuff.

Like a crowd of party-goers, the Higgs field fills space, affecting anything that moves through it. But unlike a crowd of people, or anything else we are familiar with, I can't measure my velocity with respect to this background field; it looks exactly same no matter how I am moving.... The Higgs field doesn't drag you down to its velocity, because it doesn't have a velocity. There's really no analogy for that in everyday life, but it's how the world appears to work.

The rule is simple: If you don't interact directly with the Higgs, you have zero mass; if you do interact directly with the Higgs, you have a nonzero mass, and your mass is directly proportional to how strong that interaction is.

The large majority of the mass of ordinary objects comes from their protons and neutrons, and that comes from the strong interactions, not from the Higgs field.

We are part of the universe that has developed a remarkable ability: We can hold an image of the world in our minds. We are matter contemplating itself.

... nature doesn't let us fool ourselves. Science proceeds by making guesses, which it dignifies by calling them "hypotheses," and then testing those guesses against the data.

The Book's Author

Astrophysicist Sean Carroll

Astrophysicist and cosmologist is a Senior Research Associate at the California Institute of Technology . He's also a popular science writer, known for his writing at Discover magazine's Cosmic Variance blog and for his previous popular science book, From Eternity to Here: The Quest For the Ultimate Theory of Time.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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