Devoted to sharing their own delight and awe before the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos, Frank Wilczek (winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics) and science writer Betsy Devine also have a serious purpose: to reveal to the lay reader how a heightened perception can respond to timeless themes of the physical universe. For example, they show that even the most exotic theories always confirm that physical laws are precisely the same throughout the universe, and they explain how we have learned that the most massive molten stars and the tiniest frozen particles are in physical harmony. In their descriptions of the workings of the half-known universe, Wilczek and Devine bring all of us face to face with the beauty of eternal order and the inevitability of rational ends and beginnings.
From MacArthur fellowship-winner/physicist Wilczek and coauthor Devine, an uncommon and uncommonly good exposition of contemporary quantum physics. The authors use music as a metaphor, elaborating numerous themes and variations that liken the vibrations of elementary matter to strings and sounding boards. The metaphor also recalls the work of Pythagoras and the elevation of number (and hence mathematics) as the key to understanding nature. These historical and contemporary modes help clarify the mysteries at the heart of quantum mechanics: the dual nature of photons, electrons, and other fundamental units as waves and particles. This fresh approach to themes that have inspired dozens of popularizations in recent years takes on a distinctly personal cast as Wilzcek describes his odyssey in developing "asymptomatically free theories" through the application of certain mathematical constructs. In essence, the theory explains why the strong force, which binds protons and neutrons in atomic nuclei, seems opposed to common sense: The force is weak when the particles are close, growing stronger as the particles move farther apart. Finally, Wilzcek's and Devine's vision of themes and harmonies inevitably lead them from the infinitesimally small to the universe itself, making the leap from atoms to galaxies, from accelerator collisions to the Big Bang. Not all of this is easy-going; one could wish for a little more mathematical explanation in terms, say, of the group theory behavior of quarks. But there are plenty of moments of enlightenment to cheer lay readers who want yet another version - or vision - of ultimate reality. (Kirkus Reviews)