Thursday, December 29, 2011

John Gribbin

John Gribbin is one of today's greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books including In Search of the Multiverse, In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, and Science: A History. He trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

His new book is Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique.

Earlier this month I asked Gribbin what he was reading. His reply:
I have recently been reading two books inspired by the quest for a “theory of everything”, while waiting for news from CERN about the discovery of the Higgs particle. The books complement each other beautifully. The Infinity Puzzle, by Frank Close, is an erudite (but readable) history of particle physics in the twentieth century. As I said in a review for Focus magazine, it tells the story of the search for a unified field theory from the Second World War to the Large Hadron Collider, concentrating on the people involved and the sometimes tortuous path that led to what is now known as the Standard Model of physics. Along the way we get the true story (or as near as we are likely to get to the true story) of the “discovery” of quarks, find out why Peter Higgs is so embarrassed that his name is attached to a certain particle, and lays to rest the myth perpetrated by Thomas Kuhn that science proceeds by a series of revolutions.

Higgs Force, by Nicholas Mee, tells the same story in much more gossipy fashion, a delightfully readable and accessible account of the search for the force which ensures that there is something rather than nothing in the Universe. Mee explains as clearly as anybody what scientists mean by the concept of infinity, and how symmetry breaking gave rise to the Universe as we know it.

Of course, if the Higgs particle has not been found by the time you read this, both books will need revision, and physicists will have the exciting prospect ahead of them of explaining what went wrong with their “standard model”. Contrary to popular belief, this is what most physicists secretly hope for -- new discoveries to explain rather than a lifetime dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s of old theories.
Learn more about Alone in the Universe and the author at John Gribbin's website.

The Page 69 Test: John Gribbin's The Fellowship.

The Page 99 Test: Alone in the Universe.

--Marshal Zeringue