Wednesday, August 31, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Warped Passages out

The U.S. edition of Lisa Randall's book called

is finally out, about three months after the British edition. More precisely, you should see it everywhere by tomorrow. I greatly recommend the book especially to those who have already been interested in particle physics for some time.

This is a book in which you not only learn what is a dimension and how various laws depend on the spacetime dimensionality etc., but you will also see what the one-brane and two-brane Randall-Sundrum models are, even what locally localized gravity is, how the branes got started in string theory, what are the different scenarios by which the branes are included in string-theoretical and string-inspired models of reality, and how the extra dimensions may solve problems of particle physics such as the hierarchy problem or the flavor-changing neutral currents.

These are just examples. On page 152, you will even learn how a famous Russian communist was wrong in his argument with a Czech anti-communist, an argument that was focusing on the structure of the electron. :-) Was Lenin wrong? That's what the first female tenured physics professor (or at least theoretical physics, in one case) at MIT, Princeton, and Harvard who wrote the book says.

I am sure that even the string theorists will find many things in the book to learn; I certainly did learn some new ways of thinking about the questions we know. The text strengthens your ability to think about simple and less simple things in terms of scales and other popular concepts in phenomenology.

Every chapter starts with a quote from a song that is surprisingly related to particle physics; usually a small story from the world of fiction follows. Many of them are cute and they have deep connections to high-energy physics. The illustrations are nice, too. And the book does not omit an introduction to particle physics and relativity near the beginning.

But this book is first of all an authentic book by one of the most influential particle physicists. Lisa Randall may often be described as a string theorist but you should know that her account is as complementary as you can get. Lisa started her research in the string-theory-is-useless camp and she has done a lot of serious stuff in this context. She also describes what the mood was in the two camps and explains the actual meta-arguments that the two camps had used in their battles; and be sure that it has not been just 20 years of the sentence "string theory is disconnected from reality" as some books addressed to not-too-demanding readers would like you to believe.

Those readers who may think that the book is only promoted because the author is female should know that they are wrong. Lisa became the most cited high-energy physicist, which is a category that includes both females as well as males, since 1999; I hope that this characterization is not specious. :-)

When I was a high school kid, I used to think that Stephen Hawking was mostly a media construct. Much later I found out how much wrong this opinion was because Hawking has done some truly first-class physics. (Unfortunately there are not too many small black holes around; that's a pity because otherwise he would get a Nobel prize.)

I would like to stress that this book is different from a random popular book about physics because Lisa Randall is real. She's not a random person who would be irrelevant for most physicists and who has been planning to earn some money by publishing dumb insults against the physicists - which would be the appropriate description for several physics-related books recently discussed on this blog. (Some of the authors of these books will pretend that they don't know whom I am talking about.) She's a very gifted physicist and a leader who wants to share her excitement about the actual physics ideas, some of which were discovered by her, and you should try to follow her.

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