Having recounted the mechanics of the big picture in A Universe from Nothing (2012), theoretical physicist Krauss (Director, Origins Project/Arizona State Univ.) delivers a companion volume that fills in the little—often very little—stuff.
Throughout human history, all cultures explained, usually incorrectly, the cosmos, our visible world, and man itself, but, as the author writes, “humanity took a major step toward modernity when it dawned on our ancestors’ consciousness that there is more to the universe than meets the eye.” From electromagnetism and the concept of space-time, which makes sense, to the minuscule quantum world, which doesn’t, these are not in short supply. Although no true believer, Krauss launches with “in the beginning there was light” but adds that gravity deserves equal billing before proceeding with a rich, definitely not-dumbed-down history of physics. Newton and Galileo revealed how things moved, but no individual achievement is likely to surpass Einstein’s; he improved the picture with a spectacular unification of space, time, and gravity. Krauss slows after the period around 1920, when quantum mechanics revealed new, confusing phenomena, and matters have not improved much since, as physicists struggle, with varying success, to explain an oddball collection of particles and forces, culminating in the discovery of the Higgs particle by the most complicated machine every built, the Large Hadron Collider. This revealed that physicists were more or less on the right track but faced plenty of unanswered questions. Krauss has never been one to reduce science to a Nova-style magic show, so readers will need to maintain close attention to properly absorb his explanations of concepts such as the weak force, Higgs field, and symmetry breaking.
An admirable complement to the author’s previous book and equally satisfying for those willing to read carefully.