Lively popular account of late-20th-century physics, physicists and their machines.
To a physicist, "massive" does not mean "heavy," explains Guardian science correspondent Sample. It means having mass or weight (such as an atom) as opposed to having no mass (such as a light photon). The author adds that at the instant of the Big Bang, everything in the universe existed as energy. Einstein pointed out that energy and mass are equivalent, and an instant after the Bang, an energy field that permeated the fledgling universe switched on. Depending on how strongly particles felt it, they acquired mass, resulting in protons, electrons, atoms, molecules, stars and eventually life itself. This is the Higgs field named after British physicist Peter Higgs, the central figure in Sample's narrative. Scientists take a new theory seriously when it makes accurate predictions, and discoveries of the W and Z particles in the 1980s did just that. Although now an accepted concept, the theory also predicts a massive Higgs particle, an essential element and the only particle in the standard model of our universe still undiscovered. Careful readers will learn a good deal of physics, but Sample spends equal time on personalities, rivalries and histories of the gigantic particle accelerators racing to find the Higgs. In the lead is the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which uses the world's largest accelerator, now operating in Switzerland. American readers may wince to learn how the United States assured itself second place when Congress cancelled the much larger Superconducting Super Collider in 1993, but the modest collider at Fermilab outside Chicago remains a contender.
Quality science journalism.
“The grand narrative in Ian Sample's book sweeps from the earliest speculations on the nature of matter; through the Second World War and the dawn of nuclear weapons; the paranoia of the Cold War (during which science was seen as a source of national security); rival efforts by the US and Europe to lead the world in times of peace; and the eventual emergence of worldwide scientific co-operation.... Massive carries the reader through the epic using individual episodes from the lives of some of the participants.”
New York Journal of Books
“Massive is a tale of search and of discovery, of the hunt for a particle of high mass and very short lifespan called the Higgs Boson.... Go. Read. Enjoy.”
Jo Marchant, author of Decoding the Heavens
“[Massive] weaves the physics into a compelling human story; it's a science book that reads like a novel... [and] the best discussion I've read of what it will mean if they do finally manage to make the Higgs boson, and what finding it might tell us about the nature of the universe.”
Graham Farmelo, Guardian (London)
“[Peter] Higgs himself has proved almost as elusive as his eponymous particle. Until now. Ian Sample.... persevered long enough to secure an interview with him, and the results are among the highlights of Massive, a lively account of the genesis of both the LHC and its most famous particulate quarry.... Sample has interviewed quite a few other leading scientists, too, and proves adept at prising insights from them.... We are kept hooked by its fine reportage, which makes clear the sheer achievement of the scientists and engineers who have built the LHC, the most complex machine ever made in the service of pure science. We learn, too, of the many theoretical concepts that will be probed by it.”
Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here
“When the Higgs boson is discovered, it will be front page news, and this is the book that sets the stage. Ian Sample mixes cutting-edge science with behind-the-scenes stories to paint a compelling picture of one of modern science's greatest quests.”
“Sample describes the competition and politics behind the experiments that have sought the eponymous boson.... He relates amusing anecdotes... [and] spins a good yarn.... To get a sense of the sociology and politics of high-energy physics, Massive is a good place to start.”
“Lively popular account of late-20th-century physics, physicists and their machines.... Quality science journalism.”
“[A] roller-coaster of a tale. Sample keeps the physics accessible, but the real pleasure is in the personalities and drama he reveals behind the hunt for one of the most elusive objects in the universe.”
“Lively popular account of late-20th-century physics, physicists and their machines.... Quality science journalism."
Wall Street Journal
“Ian Sample ... shows a keen eye for the personal equation even while narrating large swatches of physics history.... Mr. Sample's exciting, easy-to-read narrative captures the collaboration, and competition, among the theorists who became involved in the search [for the Higgs particle] over the decades.”
“A whirlwind tour of the discoveries that first revealed the subatomic world.... Like any good book, the excitement in Massive builds, culminating with the frenzied Higgs hunt at the end of LEP's run and more recently at the Tevatron at Fermilab in the US both racing against time to bag the revered particle.”
Stephen Curry, Reciprocal Space Blog on nature.com
“[An] entertaining and breathless read: Sample whizzes through the story, tracking the progress from Higgs' first inkling of an idea back in the early sixties right up to the present day, which sees the particle physics community poised on the verge of discovery, waiting to see if the Higgs' bosonthe eponymous 'God particle'will finally flash into existence as the LHC is ramped up to full power.”
Dara O'Briain, New Scientist
“[T]his was my holiday page-turner: a clear and engrossing description of the physics of the Higgs boson (with surrounding weirdness), combined with a breathless account of the leap-frogging race for its discovery.”
The Midwest Book Review
“The definition of the Higgs boson and how it gives everything mass, and why it's important, comes alive for readers with little prior science background. Recommended for general-interest and science collections alike!”
The Guardian (UK)
“Sample's story of “how the universe got its mass” is told through the life and science of Higgs. The result is a compelling work of popular science, full of mind-boggling ideas and a real sense of the excitement of scientific discovery.”
“Science journalist Sample does an excellent job of capturing the history of the subject and the vivid personalities of some of the most famous living physicists.... Massive is an excellent nontechnical introduction to the history of modern particle physics right up to the present.... Highly recommended.”
“A quick and enticing read...Massive provides an accessible introduction to the physics of this, the LHC era.”
“A gripping account of
the story of how the [Higgs boson] theory, first proposed in 1964, moved from being a curiosity of dubious relevance to the centre stage of fundamental physics today.... So read this book, then watch the final stages of this particular scientific quest play out over the coming months and years.”