An energetic follow-up to The God Particle (1993), Nobel laureate Lederman’s fine overview of particle physics. This time, Lederman is assisted by theoretical physicist Hill; the two co-authored Quantum Physics for Poets (2011) and Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe (2004).
The Higgs field and its particle, given its glitzy name in the first book and discovered in 2012, take up only one of a dozen chapters that reveal why mass exists. Contrary to the common misconception, “mass” does not mean heaviness but simply the presence of matter, as opposed to its absence in something like a light photon. It turns out that everything in the universe—protons, electrons, atoms, human beings—would be massless if not for the Higgs field. The authors explain this with an account of the critical importance of symmetries in particle interactions and why the weak force has a much shorter range than the electromagnetic force. In a large portion of the book, Lederman and Hill examine questions that physicists should address in the coming years, as well as the machines they must build to do this. The European Large Hadron Collider of Higgs fame produces modest numbers of extremely energetic protons. Machines with a different output (muons, electrons) or an immense output of particles with less energy would illuminate rare interactions, fleeting particles such as neutrinos, or still-obscure phenomena such as dark matter and dark energy. Despite the authors’ enthusiasm, chatty style, and generous use of diagrams, charts and analogy, many readers will struggle with the complexity of the subject matter.
Some concepts in physics (string theory is another) are difficult to explain to general readers, but Lederman and Hill make a noble effort, and those who obey their frequent suggestions to re-read may find it worth the effort.