The Great Design: Particles, Fields, and Creation

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Oxford University Press, 1989 - History - 376 pages
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Although modern physics surrounds us, and newspapers constantly refer to its concepts, most nonscientists find the subject extremely intimidating. Complicated mathematics or gross oversimplifications written by laypersons obscure most attempts to explain physics to general readers.
Now, at long last, we have a comprehensive--and comprehensible--account of particles, fields, and cosmology, written by a working physicist who does not burden the reader with the weight of ponderous scientific notation. Exploring how physicists think about problems, Robert K. Adair considers the assumptions they make in order to simplify impossibly complex relationships between objects, how they determine on what scale to treat the problem, how they make measurements, and the interplay between theory and experiment.
Adair gently guides the reader through the ideas of particles, fields, relativity, and quantum mechanics. He explains the great discoveries of this century--which have caused a revolution in how we view the universe--in simple, logical terms, comprehensible with a knowledge of high school algebra. Performing the difficult task of predigesting complex concepts, Adair gives nonscientists access to what often appears to be an arcane discipline, and captures the joy of discovery which lies at the heart of research.

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The great design: particles, fields, and creation

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Adair's aim is to explain the underlying ideas of modern physics to the educated layperson while avoiding mathematics as much as possible. Considering the difficulty of the task, he does a creditable ... Read full review

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This book makes for a great introduction of particles & fields for the layman who is inclined to take on a book which surpasses the completely qualitative & popular (non-technical/historical) books that one can easily find at your local bookstore. I should clarify that this book might be seen as somewhat more than an easy introduction by the kind of reader who enjoys reading, for example, Paul Davies, John Gribbon, Steven Hawking, and Michio Kaku's popular expositions on science (physics & cosmology). From a popular science reader's perspective it could said that this book has a technical element to it in that the mathematics are present however I believe they are at an approachable level (i.e. there are no daunting calculus derivatives, integrals or other scary looking formulas). Here, let's have the author speak for himself from the preface:
"In this book I have tried to present those basic concepts of particles and fields and of space and time, as illustrated by modern physics, very much as a professional physicist understands them. I believe that these concepts are accessible to the nonprofessional - that which I can't explain to an interested layman, I must not understand properly myself. Which is not to say the ideas are so trivial that they can be understood by physicists or layman with the "attentive mind"...
The text is nonmathematical, though on occasion simple relations are expressed in algebraic forms that should be known to anyone with a high-school education. Some more complex relations that seem to be especially interesting are presented in the extensive set of footnotes. Though few of these require mathematical sophistication beyond that taught in the first few weeks of a high-school algebra course, mathematical simplicity does not translate into conceptual simplicity, and these presentations often require careful and time-consuming thought. Once written, a book has a life of it's own independent of the author's control; however I suggest that the mathematical footnotes be samples rather than consumed. There are those who can "read" mathematics like a novel, but for most of us so compact an information transfer cannot be assimilated easily and the time required to penetrate the arguments interrupts the narrative flow excessively."
Some of the nice features of "The Great Design" include plenty of intuitive examples, illustrated figures (with some decent Feynman Diagrams), important graphs and tables. I always enjoy when an author includes famous quotes at the chapter headings as Dr. Adair does. I think that you can see into the author's mind just a little more. As promised in the authors preface I quoted above, there are a generous amount of end of chapter notes referenced throughout the main text by number. Many of these offer slightly more rigorous (and technical) mathematical elucidation of the subject or just a deeper peek at the heart of the matter. So, if you are a layman like myself, I would warn you that this book might pose a challenge but a rewarding challenge nonetheless. Based on my experience with other books I have to say that a glossary would have been nice in this book but I did without.
Finally, I thought you might like a peek at the Table of Contents:
1. Concepts in Physics.
2. Invariance and Conservation Laws.
3. Covariance, Scalars, Vectors, and Tensors.
4. The Discrete in Nature - The Atoms of Demokritos.
5. The Continuum in Nature - Faraday's Fields.
6. The Nature of Space and Time - The Special Theory of Relativity.
7. The Equivalence Principle and the Theory General Theory of Relativity.
8. The Electromagnetic Field - The First Unified Field Theory.
9. The Problem of Change - The Second Law of Thermodynamics.
10. Quantum Mechanics - Determinism to Probability.
11. The Atom - A Quantum Laboratory.
12. Fundamental Particles and Forces - An Introduction.
13. Symmetries and Conservation Laws - CPT.
14. The Strong Interactions.
15. The Weak Interactions.


Concepts in Physics
Invariance and Conservation Laws
Covariance Scalars Vectors and Tensors
The Discrete in NatureThe Atoms of Demokritos
The Continuum in NatureFaradays Fields
The Nature of Space and TimeThe Special Theory of Relativity
The Equivalence Principle and the General Theory of Relativity
The Electromagnetic FieldThe First Unified Field Theory
The AtomA Quantum Laboratory
Fundamental Particles and ForcesAn Introduction
Symmetries and Conservation LawsCPT
The Strong Interactions
The Weak Interactions
CosmologyThe Worlds Beginning and End
Gauge InvarianceThe Unification of Fields
To the Ultimate TheoryThrough a Glass Darkly

The Problem of ChangeThe Second Law of Thermodynamics
Quantum MechanicsDeterminism to Probability

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About the author (1989)

Robert K. Adair is Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Yale University. He is the author of Concepts in Physics and (with Earle C. Fowler) Strange Particles.

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