The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth's Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
By Anil Ananthaswamy
Mariner Books (January 14, 2011)
In "The Edge of Physics", Ananthaswamy takes the reader on a trip to some of the presently most exciting experiments in physics. The Soudan Mine where physicists are looking for direct detection of dark matter, the Baikal Lake with its underwater neutrino detectors, the Square Kilometre Array in South Africa, the VLT in Chile, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole, and others more before he finishes his travels at CERN in Geneva.
Along this trip one learns a lot not only about the scenery, but also about physics and the history of physics. Ananthaswamy doesn't add the experiments as an afterthought to elaborations on quantum mechanics and special relativity, but the experiments and the people working on them take lead. His theoretical explanations are brief but to the point. The appendix contains the shortest summaries of the Standard Model and the Concordance Model that I've ever seen. He explains enough so the reader can understand which new physics the experiments are looking for and what the relevance is, but always quickly comes back to show how this search proceeds in reality.
I found this book hugely enjoyable because it is not your typical popular science book. I didn't have to make my way through yet another chapter that promises to explain general relativity without equations, and I learned quite some things along the way. It's amazing how many details experimentalists have to think about that would never have occurred to me. Ananthaswamy tells stories of people who found their destiny, stories of courage, stories of trial and error, and some quite dramatic accidents and almost accidents. It's a very well written narrative.
I have only one complaint about this book which is that it would have very much benefited from some illustrations, be that to explain the CMB power spectrum, the generations and families in the Standard Model, the thermal history of the universe, or sketches of the experiments and their parts.
In summary, I can recommend this book to everybody with an interest in contemporary physics or the history of physics. If you have no clue about particle physics or cosmology whatsoever, you might not be able to follow some of the explanations, which are really brief. But even then you'll still take something away from this book. I'd give "The Edge of Physics" 5 out of 5 stars.