Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Blitz! Volume 2

The one constant of my life lately is busy, busy, busy. Too busy to read? Never! It was nice to have the plane ride up and back from Seattle though, during which I indulged in some quality time with the written word. If you, like me, enjoy reading about particle physics or possibly-crazy women living in Portland, I've got some books to recommend...

I've been wanting to read Massive ever since I finished Lisa Ranall's Warped Passages. As the subtitle says, it's about  The Missing Particle that Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science. What particle is this? Why, the Higgs boson, of course! The very beast that is the focus of so much press and the target of the huge particle colliders. It's been called the "God particle", a dreadful shorthand which I gather is much despised by most physicists.

Author Ian Sample does a fine job of explaining what this particle probably is and how it might work. Allow me to emphasize might, since we haven't actually proven its existence yet. But if it does exist it's what gives things mass. Let that sink in for a moment: your atoms weigh something. Photons of light do not. That's why photons travel at, well, the speed of light... And why you have to work to travel at all. Why do some particles have mass while others don't? It's a fundamental mystery. It probably has to do with something called the Higgs field, and probably also with symmetry breaking in the very early moments of the universe. Sample walks one through these difficult concepts but doesn't let them bog the narrative down.

The real fun in this book is found when Sample delves into the politics and personalities involved in the construction of the huge particle colliders. It's a wonder that any of them were ever built at all! His biographical sketches of the main players are great too, especially the introduction of the young Peter Higgs. And don't be fooled by the title. No equations needed to parse this tome! A healthy curiosity about the way things work is all the author requires of you.

Now, for something completely different. Well, sort of. Actually, I'm not entirely sure... And that's a very good thing. Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's Gingerbread Girl isn't available in stores yet. But it is being serialized online over at Top Shelf. You can pre-order a copy now and have the book in your hands in May, but seriously, check it out now!

Coover's art is amazing, and Tobin's story really has to be read to be appreciated. All I know is that it's about Annah, a terrible, lovable tease who may or may not have a sister made out of a piece of her brain. Or she may be crazy. Many bystanders weigh in with bits of information, including her dates, a clerk, a passing pigeon... And if telling you this makes you think you know what this book is like, I promise that it isn't that way at all. Or is it? I don't know, since I've only read as much as is available so far. But I do know that I'll be happily buying the book as soon as I can!

1 comment:

  1. Uh oh - something else online to engross my attention!

    ReplyDelete

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