The Edge of Physics, by Anil Ananthaswamy (Softcover, 2010)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book's title does not describe its contents. An accurate title
for the book would have been "My Visits to Ten Sites Used for Astronomy
and Physics Research." The subtitle hints at this, but only if you
ignore that title.
The author doesn't cover the edge of physics. He journals his visits
to ten sites that have advanced equipment for astronomy or physics. He
tosses in a little physics background, mostly string theory and precious
Unfortunately, Ananthaswamy works in journalism. So, he wrote a
journal instead of a science book. This, despite a title that indicates
the opposite. Today's "journalism" has an increasingly solid track
record of agenda-driven, unbalanced writing. In keeping with this trend,
Ananthaswamy wrote an unbalanced piece.
I've read a fair number of other books on physics (written by
researchers, not journalists with zero bona-fides on the subject) and
watched several videos geared toward the more curious segment of the
public. So, I'm aware of the subject's landscape. Ananthaswamy doesn't
seem to share this awareness. Instead, he seems fixated on string
theory. It's as if he read some books on it and hasn't read
anything else on physics. While string theory is fascinating and
- Explains it superficially, at best.
- Proceeds under the assumption it is "the" theory rather than one
of several competing theories currently being explored.
- Gives the impression that all of the current experimentation is
based on string theory (it's not).
Balanced coverage of the leading theories that are on the edge of
physics would have resulted in a much better
book. To fit this in the same page count, the book would need to focus on the core
topic without all of the off-topic material that should have been cut
anyhow. In places, I wondered what the heck the author's ramblings had
to do with the subject--and I'm still wondering.
One good approach in the editing process would have been to remove
the string theory comments from the narrative and write an appendix
summarizing the leading theories. Then, re-title the book so it reflects
the content. This way, the title actually fits the book and if you're
interested in the background science you can read an overview.
- The book is extensively researched. Unlike the typical
journalist author, Ananthaswamy used credible sources.
- The copyrighter (Sara Lippincott) is astoundingly good. There
are few errors in the book (well below normal).
- It's a good read. The prose is smooth and clear (kudos to the
editor, Amanda Cook, but she should have cut more material).
This book would make a nice introduction for someone newly interested
in what's going on with the General Theory of Relativity today and what
it's like to visit some of the sites where experiments and research are
taking place. It does not take you to the edge of physics, though it
does take you to some edgy places in remote, hostile locations.
book consists of ten chapters, each of which is devoted to describing
the author's visit to a particular research site. Chapter 8, for
example, journals his visit to Antarctica.