Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: Knocking on Heaven's Door

I didn't read the reviews of the book carefully before checking it out of the library, so I had my expectations completely mismanaged when I discovered that Knocking on Heaven's Door, unlike Warped Passages, isn't about string theory, but rather a introduction to science book, mixed in with a discussion of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). I had previously reviewed The Magic of Reality, and this science book is very different. While The Magic of Reality aims to give you beautiful illustrations along with the text, this is very much a non-fiction for adults book.

The introduction to science is interesting and non-technical, focusing mostly on the discovery process, as well as how Quantum Mechanics, for instance, doesn't obviate Relativity or Newtonian Mechanics, and how science doesn't work that way. She describes a fascinating conversation with the producer/director of "What the Bleep do We Know" and extracts a satisfying admission from him that the "science" in that movie was nothing but utter BS. She provides a good layman's description of the traditional conflicts between science and religion, and shows how it's hard to be a scientist and deeply devout if you're going to do any science.

The LHC portion of the book is fascinating, and includes a description of the history and how it got built. There's an indictment of the American government for being extremely short-sighted about science and cancelling the SSC, which would have probed even higher energy physics, resulting in all the scientists going to Europe to do their experiments. Given how gorgeous that area of Geneva/Switzerland is, I'm not sure people are all that disappointed.

Finally, there's a description of what experiments the LHC is expected to run and what results it's expected to produce in the short and long run.

I described Warped Passages as a tough read, but this book's much simpler, and can easily be understood by anyone with a decent high school education (which I'm given to understand is difficult to come by in the USA). I recommend the book for anyone who wants to understand why we spend so much money for "toys for physicists", and those who want to understand how the scientific process works.
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