Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Edge of Physics”

Edge of physicsThe Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. By Anil Ananthaswamy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

The author of The Edge of Physics claims that the study of physics is in crisis, in large part because after two centuries of breakneck advances in the last few decades little has been added to the body of knowledge in this scientific discipline. This led journalist Anil Ananthaswamy to survey the landscape seeking cutting edge physics research. Much of that was in extreme environments, consequently he visited research stations at the poles and observatories at the top of the world’s highest mountains.

The result is something of a travelogue of his experiences journeying around the globe; and this is very much a first person narrative of Ananthaswamy’s movements. How satisfying this book will be for any reader is dependent on how much first person narrative one wants to read. For me, it was not a particularly successful book. I am less interested in the travels and travails of Anil Ananthaswamy than I am the pursuit of scientific understanding. Others will, no doubt, feel differently about it.

What this book does well is offer a basic introduction in an easily understood manner the complex subjects of dark energy, dark matter, inflation after the Big Bang, string theory, and multiverses.

This work is very much a “once-over-lightly” account that is as much a travelogue as it is a book on the scientific pursuit. Mostly it is a valid, easy to read introduction to some of the fascinating research underway in Einsteinian physics, especially the General Theory of Relativity, and about a few of the exotic locations where scientists are undertaking this research. While it might not truly be about taking the reader to “the edge of physics,” it is certainly about taking readers to “the edge of the Earth.”

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