Here’s the ultimate challenge for writer and reader: a book about nothing.
Literally: the primary topic of this study by Los Angeles Times science writer Cole (First You Build a Cloud, 1999) is the concept of the vacuum in physics and cosmology. Lay readers may be surprised to learn that this modern version of the vacuum is by no means a simple void: instead, it is the repository of a variety of fields and forces, which may give birth to particles of considerable mass and energy. The biggest prize among these is the elusive Higgs field, which is believed to be responsible for the existence of mass; the particle associated with it, the Higgs boson, may have been detected in recent experiments. At the same time, the vacuum appears to be the repository of the cosmological constant, the force now believed to be involved in the expansion of the universe. The most recent iterations of string theory (which has gradually shed its far-out status and begun to command serious attention from physicists) postulate that the very fabric of space-time in which the vacuum exists has not just our familiar four dimensions but as many as eleven, some folded up very small. But the vacuum remains the central unsolved problem of string theory, which predicts not one default vacuum, but hundreds—none of which is inevitably the “right” one (i.e., the vacuum that appears to exist in our own universe). Cole offers the reader insights into all these cutting-edge ideas, as well as the problems associated with the Big Bang and Black Holes, in which the laws of physics appear to break down. The main flaw is the author’s fondness for wordplay—and “nothing” gives ample scope for that—which sometimes impedes clarity.
Belongs in every basic modern science collection.