This Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist’s Journey Into Reality

This Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist’s Journey Into RealityThis Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist’s Journey Into Reality by Michael Dine 

This Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist's Journey to the Edge of Reality This Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist’s Journey Into Reality (2022) is Michael Dine’s worthy contribution to the popular physics/cosmology bookshelf, though readers may have to work a little harder at this one than similar books. That extra work is worth it, though, for this up-to-date and engaging exploration of modern science.

Dine moves between the very large and very small, covering particle theory, quantum theory, the Standard Model, dark energy and dark matter, gravity waves, the expansion of the universe, time’s arrow, Einstein’s various theories, the Big Bang, black holes, the Higgs Boson, string theory, and more. It’s about as comprehensive a book as one could want. And for the most part as lucid as one would want, as well. Though, as noted, not quite as easy to follow as similar books I’ve read. Dine doesn’t throw much math at the reader, or equations, but the depth and terms and concepts can get a bit hard to follow in spots (it is theoretical physics, after all), and I found myself doing a lot more backing up and rereading than typical, in particular with the discussion of breaking symmetries.

Some of that, I think, is that Dine will often give numbers where other authors might give generalities: for instance, noting one particle might have 200 times the mass of another whereas someone else might simply say it is much heavier. Similarly, Dine may offer more details/terms than others, as when he notes there are three types of muons, and while others would simply say the difference is in their charges (one positive, one negative, one neutral), Dine goes the extra step and gives their symbols, as well. It’s not so much that these add a lot of confusion, but they do increase the density of the work and give readers more to remember or hold in their heads, which may explain, in part, why this text seems a little more difficult (and to be clear, it is only a little; no one should be fearful of the math or science in This Way to the Universe).

Dine brings his own experience in here, sometimes in self-deprecating manner, and one of my favorite aspects of the book is how Dine is not so proud that he won’t admit prior error or the difficulty, even for him, of his profession, as when he notes about another research team’s results that “Many — including me — were skeptical that this measurement was telling us anything interesting” and later, “For skeptics like me, this was a lot to swallow.” The results turned out to be correct, though. Nor is Dine afraid to be skeptical of his own chosen area of string theory, happy to note both its exhilarating potential but also its many criticisms. At another point he describes trying to figure out how the LIGO gravity wave detection experiment worked: “I wandered the halls of my department, asking questions about how this was done. No one could give me a complete answer. I had to pore through papers and articles online (and, at the risk of my professional pride, I acknowledge watching an assortment of YouTube videos) to sort it all out.” Not only does this sort of thing make our tour guide much more relatable, but it also emphasizes how science works — painstaking experimentation combined with hypotheses subjected to rigorous examination and challenge with an acceptance that being wrong is not “failure” but instead merely another step in the process, one that forecloses certain paths and opens up others.

Dine doesn’t quite have the winning stylistic voice of some of these popular science works, such as Harry Cliff’s How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch: In Search of the Recipe for Our Universe, but there is a voice there, a sense of personality and an interesting, likable one at that. And if you have to work a bit harder, or might feel a little lost here and there, neither of those cause any major issue, making This Way to the Universe an easy book to recommend for those wanting a better understanding of what we know about how our world and the universe works, as well as what we don’t know about those things.

Published in February 2022. For readers of Sean Carroll, Brian Greene, Katie Mack, and anyone who wants to know what theoretical physicists actually do. This Way to the Universe is a celebration of the astounding, ongoing scientific investigations that have revealed the nature of reality at its smallest, at its largest, and at the scale of our daily lives. The enigmas that Professor Michael Dine discusses are like landmarks on a fantastic journey to the edge of the universe. Asked where to find out about the Big Bang, Dark Matter, the Higgs boson particle—the long cutting edge of physics right now—Dine had no single book he could recommend. This is his accessible, authoritative, and up-to-date answer. Comprehensible to anyone with a high-school level education, with almost no equations, there is no better author to take you on this amazing odyssey. Dine is widely recognized as having made profound contributions to our understanding of matter, time, the Big Bang, and even what might have come before it. This Way to the Universe touches on many emotional, critical points in his extraordinary carreer while presenting mind-bending physics like his answer to the Dark Matter and Dark Energy mysteries as well as the ideas that explain why our universe consists of something rather than nothing. People assume String Theory can never be tested, but Dine intrepidly explores exactly how the theory might be tested experimentally, as well as the pitfalls of falling in love with math. This book reflects a lifetime pursuing the deepest mysteries of reality, by one of the most humble and warmly engaging voices you will ever read.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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