Who Should Read This Book
This book is written for the popular science enthusiast who understands the fundamental concepts of Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics, and Special Relativity. In-depth knowledge of these theories will go a long way towards making this book more enjoyable.
“The Greatest Story Ever Told… So Far” is a popular science book by Lawrence Krauss, focusing on the historical development as well as some of the prominent technical aspects of the Standard Model of Particle Physics.
I was a bit sceptical when I first picked this book up.
Firstly, the title seemed to promise too much. Secondly, I could not make out what the story was about either from the table of contents or by flipping through the pages. The book, however, was selling at a bargain price, so I took my chances.
Let’s start with a review of the contents.
The book is divided into three parts: Genesis, Exodus, and Revelation. More on that later. In a nutshell, it tells the story of the Standard Model of Particle physics from inception and as far back as Galileo and Newton till today.
The central topics over which the author spent the most time were as follows:
- Light and electromagnetism through the works for Faraday and Maxwell
- Special Relativity and the constancy of the speed of light
- Quantum mechanics with particular attention to the theory of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED)
- The atom, with a strong focus on the nucleus’ composition
- Radioactivity and the weak interaction
- The strong force and proton and neutron decay
- The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN
- Symmetry and Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking
Here is what I did not like about this work:
- The title I found irrelevant to the book’s contents and a bit misleading. Because it seems to promise so much, it detracts the serious reader from purchasing the book. The book’s contents revolve around the Standard Model and do not explain why the universe exists (its purpose or creation mechanism).
- Next was what seemed to be an irrelevant and distracting onslaught on religious beliefs. Religion was created to bridge the gap between what people knew and what they didn’t. It created a narrative that helped humans make sense of the world and plan for the future. The book derides religious beliefs by consistently comparing them with scientific thought. Luckily for the reader, these tangential hikes were short and sparse.
- The constant mentioning of “Nobel Prize”. Almost every scientist mentioned in the book is a Nobel laureate, and the repetitive reference to the prize was redundant and disengaging.
Is the book recommended? The answer is YES. Here is why:
- The story of the development of the Standard Model is fascinating, in my view, because of the tiny scale on which it operates. It is just amazing how theoretical scientists have predicted the existence of particles out of pure mathematical models. Equally interesting is the experimentalists’ ingenuity in designing experiments that allow us to peer at the universe on such small scales.
- The author has managed to present tremendously complex concepts through brilliant analogies in an almost intuitive image. Electromagnetic radiation, derivation of the speed of light, the forces’ range, gauge symmetry, the observer’s position and its influence on the simultaneity of events in special relativity, spontaneous symmetry breaking, Einstein-Bose condensates, and superconductivity are some of the theories that were presented with spectacular intuitiveness.
Has the Book Achieved Its Aim?
The book’s aim, as described in its title, is to recount the most remarkable story ever told and tell us why we are here. In that sense, my view is that it failed abysmally.
Regarding the undeclared aim of the book, which is popularizing the Standard Model of Particle Physics, the book has done a great job and is recommended.
13 x 2.05 x 19.8 cm
- Standard Model of Particle Physics
- Light and Photons
- Quantum Mechanics
- Nuclear Forces
- Particle Interactions
Although the book is divided into three parts, I did not find them thematically distinct. In effect, they all recount the story of the development of the Standard Model in (almost) chronological order. In this sense, the book is well structured and easy to follow.
Despite the abundance of popular science books in every bookstore, I have not yet come across a bestselling volume that discusses the Standard Model of Particle Physics from start to end. This focus on particle physics, in my view, is one of the two points that made this book quite original. The second point is the analogies and explanations that the author used to present some of the most complex topics in physics. These analogies have brought electromagnetic radiation, particle decay, gauge symmetry, Bose-Einstein condensates, and superconductivity to an almost intuitive level.
The book reads like a nice and pleasant story occasionally disrupted by attacks on religious views of creation and an exhaustive reference to Nobel prizes. However, these “nuisances” will not distract the reader from the book’s central theme.
As the target audience of this website is primarily software engineers, the practicality of this book is inexistent from a professional perspective. That being said, it does offer a lot of topics that can be used in a friendly discussion at the lunch table.
This book discusses one of the complex topics of science: particle physics, presenting it to the physics enthusiast and popular science reader in a very accessible manner. Despite the constraints imposed by choice of this target audience, it has not shied away from tackling some of the most complicated theories in the field. It’s probably as complete and as deep as it can get.
Krauss primarily works in theoretical physics and has published research on various topics in this field. In 1995 he proposed that the energy density of the universe was largely due to the vacuum energy of empty space. In 1998, his predictions were confirmed by two experimental observations, to which the Nobel Prize was awarded in 2011.
Krauss is one of the very few scientists to have received awards from all the three major American physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics. In 2012, he was also awarded the National Science Board’s Public Service Medal for his contributions to public education.
The author’s style is easy to follow, and the story is presented chronologically, which helps the reader stay abreast of the complicated subject. The book can be read in a week without too much effort. Some paragraphs require extra focus, so it’s not an entirely casual read. The explanations and the storytelling are engaging enough to keep the reader interested.
The accessibility of this book is a bit tricky to gauge. In effect, the more familiar the reader is with the fundamental or advanced topics of electromagnetism, particle physics, special relativity, quantum mechanics, and quantum field theory, the more enjoyable they will find it. The book’s second half can be a challenging read for someone with a casual understanding of advanced physics topics. However, there is no math included in the text, but the diagrams and visualizations are a bit sparse.
Lawrence Maxwell Krauss is an American-Canadian theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He previously taught at Arizona State University, Yale University, and Case Western Reserve University, and subsequently founded and directed the ASU’s Origins Project, now called ASU Interplanetary Initiative, which examines the fundamental questions on the universe.
Krauss authored several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek (1995) and A Universe from Nothing (2012).