The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe

( 20 )

Overview

Speculation is rife that by 2012 the elusive Higgs boson will be found at the Large Hadron Collider. If found, the Higgs boson would help explain why everything has mass. But there’s more at stake—what we’re really testing is our capacity to make the universe reasonable.

Our best understanding of physics is predicated on something known as quantum field theory. Unfortunately, in its raw form, it doesn’t make sense—its outputs are physically impossible infinite percentages when ...

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Overview

Speculation is rife that by 2012 the elusive Higgs boson will be found at the Large Hadron Collider. If found, the Higgs boson would help explain why everything has mass. But there’s more at stake—what we’re really testing is our capacity to make the universe reasonable.

Our best understanding of physics is predicated on something known as quantum field theory. Unfortunately, in its raw form, it doesn’t make sense—its outputs are physically impossible infinite percentages when they should be something simpler, like the number 1. The kind of physics that the Higgs boson represents seeks to “renormalize” field theory, forcing equations to provide answers that match what we see in the real world.

The Infinity Puzzle is the story of a wild idea on the road to acceptance. Only Close can tell it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews
“Close chronicles the search for the elusive Higgs Boson particle (the ‘God Particle’)…. Throughout, the author chronicles the winners and losers in the annual Nobel sweepstakes, giving them recognition for their achievements and providing a lively thread for readers.”

Peter Higgs, Emeritus Professor of Physics, The University of Edinburgh
“It is a pleasure to read a book on recent advances in our understanding of the structure of matter by an author who not only understands the subject but also takes care to investigate conflicting accounts of how these advances came about.”
 
Steve Nadis, coauthor of The Shape of Inner Space
“As someone who can deftly explain abstruse quantum field theory to a lay reader, Frank Close is a rarity among physicists. Rarer still, he knows how to weave a compelling tale—that of the ‘infinity problem,’ which has bedeviled the field of quantum electrodynamics and subsequent attempts to unify the forces of nature. The result is a great scientific whodunit, replete with a large, engaging cast of characters, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, and unexpected twists and turns. Here is proof that Close belongs among the very first rank of scientist-authors. I strongly recommend The Infinity Puzzle.”
 
Dan Hooper, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and University of Chicago; author of Dark Cosmos and Nature’s Blueprint
“The development of quantum field theory is among the very greatest achievements of humankind, on par with those of Einstein, Newton and Darwin. Frank Close introduces these difficult ideas with a rare clarity and simplicity.  Anyone who wants to understand why we built the LHC and what we hope to learn from it should read this book.”
 
Booklist
“[Close’s] presentation lucidly acquaints readers with physicists’ quest for the Higgs boson (theorized to cause mass) that Europe’s Large Hadron Collider was built to find.” 
 
Nature
“[A] fascinating book…. [A] compelling history and sociology of modern particle theory. We discover the motivations and achievements of a rich cast of brilliant individuals, and get enough of the science to grasp what they were trying to do. Where Close really shines is in exposing the fraught process of recognition in science…. Close’s history of the field is engaging and gives insight into how great theories are created.”
 
New Scientist
“[A] thoroughly researched and well-crafted narrative…. [Close] focuses on the triumphs and failures of the physicists behind the equations, providing a realistic view of how theoretical physics really progresses – the all-too-human endeavour fraught with personal ambitions, rivalries, alliances, errors and plain historical accident…. It’s refreshing to read a popular physics book that doesn’t revisit the same well-trodden ground of so many before it.”
 
BBC Focus“[A] masterpiece…. Close has done his homework thoroughly, interviewing just about all the protagonists that are still alive and going back to original source material for his facts, which often contradict the memories of even the most reliable of those survivors…. This book is essential reading—I never normally give five stars, but for this I’ll make an exception.”

The American Scholar
“The book brims with charming anecdotes about particle physics between the 1950s and 1980s, when breakthroughs came almost too fast to be comprehended and every scientist seemed to be maneuvering (and occasionally begging) for Nobel prizes. But the book also plumbs the origins of modern physics, especially troubles with the concept of infinity.”

Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong
“[A] fascinating new book…. Knowing the history of a subject has always seemed to me an integral part of really understanding it, so I’d argue that anyone who wants to really understand modern particle physics should spend some time with a book like this…. [I]f like me, you’re fascinated by this history and want to learn something new about it, go out and get a copy soon.”

Publishers Weekly
“Close voyages through the major scientific discoveries in high energy physics that began in 1928, when Paul Dirac married quantum mechanics with Special Relativity, laying the basis for the major technical advances from which we benefit in today’s digital world. Along the way we meet some major figures in the field whose breakthroughs have illuminated the deepest mysteries of physics and cosmology, resulting in an engrossing history that’s also accessible for a general audience.”

Alan Boyle, MSNBC.com’s Cosmic Log
“In his new book…, Oxford physicist Frank Close reviews decades’ worth of brain-teasing theories and looks ahead to puzzles yet to be solved…. Close’s tale illustrates that the course of true science doesn’t always run smooth. It may well turn out that the long-sought Higgs boson is a will-o’-the-wisp, and physicists will have to go back to square one. But even that won’t render The Infinity Puzzle out of date.”
 
American Scientist
“[An] intriguing tale…. a treasure trove.”
 
Chad Orzel, Uncertain Principles
“[A]bsolutely fascinating…. a highly readable and detailed history of what is arguably the best-tested theory in the history of science. …If you’re interested in what we know to be true about the universe and how it works, and how we put that knowledge together, I highly recommend this book.”
 
MAA Reviews
“Superb …. The Infinity Puzzle presents in light and fetching prose a (and you should pardon the pun) close-up of a wonderful set of episodes in contemporary science centered around one of the single most beautiful edifices of modern theoretical physics, quantum field theory, and leading up to the hottest example of big science to be found on the globe today.”
 
Discovery News
“Close’s book veers from the usual popular science treatment of the topic to focus on quantum field theory, described as ‘our best understanding of physics’—and yet very few folks outside of physics have a clear grasp of what it is, and why it’s so significant. A great read for those who’ve been following the Higgs story closely and are intrigued by some of the deeper questions.”

 
Manjit Kumar, author of Quantum“The nature of the problem, how it was solved, and the inevitable jostling for Nobel Prizes are major themes of Close’s gripping and extensively researched narrative history of particle physics over the last sixty years…. Close has succeeded in humanising a dramatic era of physics in what is my science book of the year…. ‘Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,’ William Blake wrote in the Auguries of Innocence. Frank Close does a fabulous job of reconstructing how physicists like Feynman and ’t Hooft managed to do exactly that.”

Ars Technica  
The Infinity Puzzle is eminently readable. It has no equations—only a few Feynman diagrams—and a glossary in the back so you don’t get your bosons confused with your hadrons…. All of the luminaries of twentieth century particle physics are here, along with many unsung heroes whose contributions Dr. Close explains and puts into context so they can be better appreciated by a public hitherto ignorant of their work…. [T]he entire book is a very manageable introduction to quantum physics for those who are interested in, but possibly intimidated by, understanding the inner workings of the fabric of our Universe.”

Science News 
“Building the standard model, the flagship theory of modern particle physics, was no mean task. It took decades of painstaking work to bring the forces and elementary particles that make up the universe together in a single framework (which still doesn’t include gravity). Close, a theoretical physicist, chronicles this history from an insider’s perspective…. the story doesn’t unfold as a simple, clearly developing line of thought. Instead, the reader witnesses scientific progress in all its real-world messiness. It’s a comedy of errors at times, full of dead ends, missed opportunities and ideas that lie dormant for years, unproven or unnoticed.”
 
The Economist
“Mr Close, an accomplished particle physicist in his own right, enjoyed unprecedented access to all the principal players, many of whom he either knows well or, like Mr Higgs, has spoken to at length. He also appears to have left no relevant academic paper, no conference proceedings, memoir or other publicly available source unturned. This painstaking attention to historical detail yields many gems…. Mr Close’s magisterial work is sure to become the definitive account of the story. It offers no unambiguous advice to the Nobel committee. But the judges would be wise to give it a thorough read anyway.”


CHOICE

“A detailed and compelling account of advances in particles physics over the last 60 years. Close’s distinguished career as a professional physicist has enabled him to meet many of the protagonists who made these advances, giving his account the personal perspective of an insider…. Through careful use of analogies and precise prose, Close explains how the infinity puzzle was confronted and overcome repeatedly in the last few decades.… A wonderfully written book that is valuable for all readers. Highly recommended.”

Physics World

“Close deserves praise simply for picking quantum field theory as the topic of a popular book. This is as hard a topic as they come, and he doesn’t cut too many corners when it comes to conceptual depth. Just as important, though, is the fact that he does not hide the complexities of the historical development of the theory. Scientists rarely, if ever, come out with fully formed ideas, and Close demonstrates how science proceeds through false starts, strokes of luck, missed opportunities and, as he puts it, ‘comedies of errors’. Close is especially diligent in investigating the priority of ideas and in crediting researchers who may have been left behind, either by the Nobel committee or by popular imagination. He interviewed virtually all surviving protagonists and, when possible, went back to their private letters and lecture notes. The result is a much more nuanced picture of history…. Serious physics-history buffs…will find The Infinity Puzzle invaluable.”

Publishers Weekly
Close (The Cosmic Onion) explains the science behind the billion international effort to discover the Higgs boson: a fundamental subatomic particle that scientists believe could account for the origins of our universe. Under the auspices of CERN in Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was constructed to accelerate particles near to the speed of light. By creating miniature matter/anti-matter collisions in "a small region of space, what the universe as a whole was like in the first moments after the Big Bang." Close voyages through the major scientific discoveries in high energy physics that began in 1928, when Paul Dirac married quantum mechanics with Special Relativity, laying the basis for the major technical advances from which we benefit in today's digital world. Along the way we meet some major figures in the field whose breakthroughs have illuminated the deepest mysteries of physics and cosmology, resulting in an engrossing history that's also accessible for a general audience. Agency: Conville & Walsh. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
Close (Theoretical Physics; Oxford Univ./Neutrino, 2010, etc.) chronicles the search for the elusive Higgs Boson particle (the "God Particle"). The author begins with Quantum Electrodynamics, Paul Dirac's groundbreaking but flawed 1928 model that unified Special Relativity and Quantum theory, and examines how it led to a succession of important discoveries: gauge invariance, renormalization, parity violations, the existence of quarks, symmetry breaking and the existence of new weird particles such as the Higgs Boson. Experiments to verify the theories needed larger and larger accelerators, with high-energy particles colliding at speeds of 300,000 kilometers per second. A major thread of the story is the interaction between the key scientists, many of whom the author knew personally, as they vied for recognition and the final accolade of a Nobel Prize. Close explains that it is not only necessary to make a great discovery but to be the first to publish it. Waiting for confirming results before publishing may prove disastrous in the competition. Throughout, the author chronicles the winners and losers in the annual Nobel sweepstakes, giving them recognition for their achievements and providing a lively thread for readers who may be struggling to comprehend the science. The story culminates with the Large Hadron Collider, which has been fully operational since 2009 but has yet to produce results. Its effort to verify the existence of the Higgs Boson by "recreat[ing] the conditions of the early universe in the laboratory" comes with a hefty price tag. In the author's view, the 60-year effort to confront "the paradox of the Infinity Puzzle has brought us to the threshold of being able to address the question of existence itself." Close ably demonstrates the stakes in this perhaps misplaced, hubristic effort.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465063826
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 6/25/2013
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 717,654
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Close is a Professor of Theoretical Physics at Oxford University and Fellow and Tutor in Physics at Exeter College, Oxford. He is the winner of the Kelvin Medal for the public understanding of physics and the author of ten books. He lives in Abingdon, England.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue: Amsterdam, 1971 1

Part 1 Genesis

1 The Point of Infinity 17

2 Shelter Island and QED 33

3 Feynman, Schwinger,… and Tomonaga (and Dyson) 55

Intermission: 1950 65

4 Abdus Salam: A Strong Beginning 67

5 Yang, Mills,… and Shaw 77

6 The Identity of John Ward 93

7 The Marriage of Weak and Electromagnetic Forces-to 1964 107

Intermission: i960 125

8 Broken Symmetries 127

9 "The Boson That Has Been Named After Me," a.k.a. the Higgs Boson 151

Intermission: Mid-1960s 183

10 1967: From Kibble to Salam and Weinberg 185

11 "And Now I Introduce Mr. 't Hooft" 203

Intermission: Early 1970s 229

Part 2 REVELATION

12 B. J. and the Cosmic Quarks 233

13 A Comedy of Errors 257

Intermission: 1975 281

14 Heavy Light 283

15 Warmly Admired, Richly Deserved 295

16 The Big Machine 313

Intermission: End of the Twentieth Century 333

17 To Infinity and Beyond 335

Epilogue 353

Postscript 357

Glossary 359

Notes 365

Bibliography 413

Index 417

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(12)

4 Star

(3)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(0)

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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2012

    Interesting read on Nobel prizes in physics

    This is an interesting read about the development of quantum mechanics in the mid to late 20th century. While the physics involved is not always easily understood, the personalities and politicking involved in the awarding of the Nobel prize are quite interesting. Some folks seem to have been overlooked (James Bjorking is the primary of these) while others seemed to have gotten one by totting their own horn.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 3, 2012

    Good read

    First, to address the one negative review. Frank Close is a physicist, please get your facts straight before posting review in the future.

    Secondly, as a lover of physics (and holder of a BS in the subject), I found this book to be very interesting. Not only does it explain Quantum Electrodynamics well it provides a great story about the work in the field.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2014

    BRONIES!!!!

    LE REDDIT ARMY IS HERE

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013

    Star

    NAME Star
    GENDER mare
    AGE 4 years
    LOOKS a black mare with a long black mane and blue eyes. Has a white star shape on her forehead.
    MATE looking
    FOALS none.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013

    Allsea and Narno's Bio

    •NAME: Allsea--
    •GENDER: Mare--
    •DESCRIPTION: A beautiful fiery red Quarter Horse mare with two white socks and white mane and tail and leafy green eyes--
    •CRUSH: No--
    •MATE: Looking--
    •FOALS: No--
    •PERSONALITY: A sweet mare who is very loving--<p>
    •NAME: Narno--
    •GENDER: Stallion--
    •DESCRIPTION: A black and white Paint stallion with calm hazel eyes--
    •CRUSH: No--
    •MATE: Looking--
    •FOALS: No--
    •PERSONALITY: A shy stallion, but awesome when you get to know him--

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013

    Wings that Fly High and Rain that Splashes

    {Name}~Wings that Fly High(Wing) {Gender}~Female {Breed}~Pegasus {Looks}~A medium build paint horse with a white snout and white socks. She has a creamy white tail and main. And snow white wings. She had large hazel eyes. {Personality}~Meet her. {Mate}~No {Crush}~Secret {Foals}~No {Power}~She can talk to other animals except humans. •• {Name}~Rain that Splashes(Rain) {Gender}~Male {Breed}~Percheron {Looks}~A large percheron with a dark grey coat and lighter grey flecks. He has a light grey main and tail and white socks. He has bright blue eyes {Personality}~Meet Him. {Mate}~None {Crush}~Secret {Foals}~No {Power}~None

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2013

    Goldstrike's bio

    Name:goldstrike) stage:young colt) apearance:pure black coat with gold highlights and gold rimmed wings. He has blue eyes.) Type:pegusus shapeshifter. His pegusus side allows him to fly and his shapeshifter side he inherited from his mother allows him to turn into a wolf.) Mother:ravenwing) father:unknown) mate:none) foals: i am one so none) history: he got separated from his mother at birth in a storm. His father died in the storm. He was reunited with his mother only three months later. It has been a month since they reunited.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2013

    Vala and Ori

    NAME Vala <p>AGE 3 years old <p>GENDER mare<p>DESC a slender and graceful built dark dapple grey Arabian with dark grey mane and tail and sky blue eyes. <p>PERS spirited but quite and gentle hearted loving but protective. <p>KIN Adria (sister) Ori (neice) <p>MATE none<p>CRUSH Rising Stor<p>FOAL none <p>••<p> NAME Ori (Or-I)<>AGE 9 months old <p>GENDER filly <p>DESC a pure white filly with flowy mane and tail with brown eyes.<p>PERS respectful and quite but fun and adventurous. Spirited and stubborn<p>KIN look at vala <p>MATE none<p>CRUSH none <p>FOAL none

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2013

    Princess and bb(black beauty) bio

    Princess:hi im princess. My age is 17 and im a girl. I have a brother bb(black beauty) nd he is fun to be around. I have no mate or crush but i do want one. Im very loving kind strong and sweet. Im a beautiful white horse with a blue mane blue tail and qhite wings with blue tipped at the end.(from hercules) i am a friendly horse to be around. Oh my eye color brown chocolate eyes. Thanks.*****************************************************
    Hi im black beauty. But you can call me bb for short. Im a male. I have my sister princess who is funny and kind. Im 17 years old. Im a strong fast horse all black with a white diamond on my muzzle and white tipped wings all black that black into whte at the tip. My crush is infinity my mate is infinity and im hoping that one day we will have colts. Im am very proud to be part of this facility and i hope im accepted. Thank you. Oh my eye color is amber eyes. Thank you once more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2013

    Infinity's Bio

    Name: Infinity *** Gender: mare *** Age: 5 years (a mature adult horse) *** Type: Allicorn (unicorn pegasus mix) *** Breed: Lippiziner-Mustang *** Appearance: Infinity is a white mare with gray hooves and nose. Her mane and tail are long silvery white while her eyes are deep brownish-black. Her wings are long and feathered, and they go from black at the tips down to white as they near her shoulders. Her horn is silvery gray with a black-fade-to-white spiral. She has blue jay feathers weaved into her mane and tail and the symol for the # infinity on her hind left thigh. Her wings and horn glow where her powers are in use. *** Powers: Infinity can heal others, move objects, shapeshift into a cat, wolf, or person (which she doesn't do often), and of course fly. *** Personality: Infinity is calm, fair, loving, caring, a natrual leader, loyal, and courageous. If you make her very angry, stand back, she is likely to attack. *** Mate: none, would like one *** Crush: not telling. Hint, its a stalion. (All stallions are males by the way). *** Foals: none, wants a few *** Past: doesn't ever want to talk about it. *** Signature: *~!nf!n!†y~*

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    Angels bio

    Update later&infin

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2013

    Rainbow Dash's Awesome Bio!

    NAME You're joking, right?

    AGE 17 (in human years I'm not sure about pony)

    GENDER I'M A STALLION!!! *Rolls eyes and facehoofs.*

    EYE COLOR magenta or dark rose

    COAT COLOR cyan blue

    MANE/TAIL COLOR rainbow, duh!

    SPECIES pegasus

    PERS that of the MLP Rainbow Dash

    OTHER just ask!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    Js scavenger hunt

    Now that you found #3 search one diary of a wimpy kid

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Very interesting - Must like details - Text book like.

    Frank covers the subject of Quantum Theory in great details. He includes a lot of history about those involved in evaluating the theory. It is a bit heavy reading if not interested in atomic science. Not for the casual reader.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 9, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Since its completion in 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at

    Since its completion in 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has been the focus of a lot of news coverage. It is by far the largest scientific project in history, and very likely the last such project for the foreseeable future. And yet, it has been fairly difficult to explain to the general public the exact purpose of LHC and what sorts of questions are the scientists trying to answer by culling over its experimental results. One of the things that LHC is trying to find is the putative &ldquo;Higgs boson,&rdquo; whose existence has been postulated for almost half a century, and without which much of our understanding of particle physics would be incomplete. However, the reasons for the need of the Higgs boson are very hard to express in the layman&rsquo;s terms. It is the particle that gives all the other particles mass, and without it (or something like it) it would be impossible to justify many of the theoretical results that have proven so incredibly insightful over the past few decades. Some popularizes of science have even resorted to calling it &ldquo;the God particle,&rdquo; which in my opinion is one of the most unfortunate and gratuitously obscure &ldquo;descriptions&rdquo; of any phenomenon in all of science.

    In &ldquo;The Infinity Puzzle&rdquo; Frank Close delves deep into the theoretical background that has lead to the postulation of the Higgs Boson. Higgs Boson turns out to be an indispensible ingredient for the theoretical formulation of the electroweak theory &ndash; the unified theory of electromagnetic and weak interactions. The modern formulation of that theory, the so-called Glashow-Weinberg-Salam model, has come at the end of a long series of abortive attempts at unification, and has been followed by even a longer succession of theoretical and experimental verifications. The discovery of the Higgs Boson would be the final validation of that model, and it would also potentially shed some light on the rest of the Standard Model of particles and fields.

    This book primarily focuses on personal histories of many of the actors that have contributed to the electroweak theory and experiment, going all the way back to the middle of the twentieth century. These are fascinating personal stories that have been long overdue for a comprehensive popular treatment. Even people like myself whose professional careers have been influenced by the electroweak and similar theories (known as &ldquo;gauge theories&rdquo;) have a rudimentary knowledge of their historical development. However, I was hoping that this book would be more focused on physics in its own right, and much less concerned with history. I&rsquo;ve read several other books by Frank Close (&ldquo;Nothing: A very Short introduction,&rdquo; &ldquo;Neutrino&rdquo;) and from reading those I&rsquo;ve come impressed by Close&rsquo;s ability to present complex physical ideas in an accessible and highly informative manner. &ldquo;The Infinity Puzzle&rdquo; turns out to be a very different kind of book. Aside from being overly historical, it also spends too much time on &ldquo;inside baseball&rdquo; minutia and arcana that even those who are inside baseball will probably just skip over. I am really not interested in getting the information straight on who presented which scientific talk in what form back in the early 1970s, and I can&rsquo;t imagine that most readers of this book would care much about this either. This is a very interesting and accessible book, but I am afraid that the choice of topics might be too recondite for the kind of audience that this book is aimed at.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2012

    Very loose ends...

    Obviously, the author is not a physicist. He creates his own jargon and gets lost in it. A few good views though.

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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