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Physics books of 2022

This year’s list includes a book about an eminent physicist striving to avoid fame, two unique books for children, and a book with equations you'll actually be able to read.

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Elusive: How Peter Higgs Solved the Mystery of Mass, by Frank Close

On the day the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was to be announced, University of Edinburgh theoretical physicist and presumed winner Peter Higgs took himself off the grid. Telling no one where he was going, Higgs left his apartment and started walking.

This year, for the 10th anniversary of the discovery that cemented the physicist’s reluctant fame, prominent physicist and prolific author Frank Close offers Elusive, the first full biography of Higgs. 

Close (also author of Theories of Everything; The Infinity Puzzle; Antimatter and more) focuses just as much on Higgs the particle as he does on Higgs the scientist, and the physics concepts he explores can be daunting. But this excellent book is well worth the effort.

The Sky is for Everyone: Women Astronomers in Their Own Words, edited by Virginia Trimble and David. A Weintraub

After earning a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, Virginia Trimble was determined to enter the graduate astronomy program at Caltech. The catalog warned, “Women are admitted only under exceptional circumstances.” She applied anyway. The response: “Dear Miss Trimble, We have reviewed your credentials and conclude that we cannot deny your admission to the California Institute of Technology. We think, however, you would be happier elsewhere.” 

Trimble received her PhD in 1968. From Caltech. She returned in 2019 to accept a lifetime achievement award from the American Institute of Physics.

Trimble (author of Visit to a Small Universe) and Vanderbilt astronomer David A. Weintraub (author of How Old is the Universe; Mars: What to Know Before We Go) share Trimble’s story, along with dozens of others, in this collection of personal essays from women astronomers who earned their PhDs between 1963 and 2010.

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I’m a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe, by Eve M. Vavagiakis, illustrated by Ilze Lemesis

Cosmologist Eve M. Vavagiakis has discovered the rarest of fundamental particles: A talking neutrino. That’s who narrates I’m a Neutrino, aimed at readers age 7-9, published by MIT Kids Press. 

The story is told in simple rhyming verse, such as, “My friends and I travel from more than one place. We come from the sun, or the earth, or from space.” The illustrations, by Ilze Lemesis, are whimsical works of art. 

Some of the book’s physics terms—mass, charge, oscillations, fermions—may require further explanation. But puzzled parents can turn to the back for thumbnail versions of the pages with fuller treatments of the content. A winner for “kids” of all ages.

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe: Space, Time and Motion, by Sean Carroll

Astrophysicist Sean Carroll is upfront about the number of equations and graphs in The Biggest Ideas in the Universe. They are multiple, but they are critical. “We’re not going to teach you how to solve the the equations,” he writes, “but you will learn to understand them.” 

Carroll (also author of Something Deeply Hidden; The Big Picture; The Particle at the End of the Universe; From Eternity to Here) is the Homewood Professor of Natural Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and a Fractal Faculty professor at the Santa Fe Institute. 

He acknowledges “just a little thinking” is required to get through his latest book, but the payoff is fascinating science that is more accessible than it appears.

There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness: And Other Thoughts on Physics, Philosophy and the World, by Carlo Rovelli

Follow theorist Carlo Rovelli (also author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics; The Order of Time; Reality Is Not What It Seems; Helgoland) through a new collection of wide-ranging and philosophical essays in which he allows his distinctive mind free rein. In one, Copernicus fixes the sun as the center of the solar system. In another, Galileo refines and expands the science of Aristotle. Newton dabbles in alchemy. And Einstein is ascendant despite myriad errors, or perhaps because of them. 

One last time, Rovelli benefits from the lyrical translation of married team Erica Segre and Simon Carnell—sadly, Segre succumbed to a long illness in 2021, at just 58 years old.

Book Covers

This Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist's Journey to the Edge of Reality, by Michael Dine  

Theorist Michael Dine says he couldn’t find a clear, concise survey of the current state of particle physics and cosmology to recommend to his non-physicist friends. So he wrote one himself. 

In his first book, Dine takes readers through discoveries and developments at the smallest, quantum scale, and then shifts his focus to the largest scales across the universe. 

Dine, a distinguished professor of physics at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, writes in a conversational style and even occasionally inserts himself in the discussion. Regarding early indications of oscillations in neutrinos traveling between the sun and the Earth, he writes, “For skeptics like me, this was a lot to swallow.”

Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions, by Sabine Hossenfelder

Theorist Sabine Hossenfelder is known for taking provocative stances about the state of her own field. In her first book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, she chided fellow physicists for prioritizing elegant mathematical solutions over empirical data. In her new book, she declares that physicists are good at talking about their field with fellow scientists but struggle to communicate with broader audiences. 

In Existential Physics, Hossenfelder, a research fellow at Germany’s Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, explores the “biggest questions,” such as: Does the past still exist? Is the universe made for us? And how did the universe begin? 

Of this last, she writes: “Not only can we not currently explain [the beginning], but it is also questionable we will ever be able to explain it.” 

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The Universe: A Biography, by Paul Murdin

The Universe: A Biography is exactly the authoritative exploration of the history of the universe that you would expect from renowned astronomer Paul Murdin, who, along with colleague Louise Webster in 1971, made the first discovery of a black hole. 

Murdin, a senior fellow emeritus of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, says his goal was to write “an understandable story rather than one that is strictly chronological.” His overlapping narratives cover the possible causes of the Big Bang through the future demise of the universe. 

Your Adventures at CERN: Play the Hero Among Particles and a Particular Dinosaur, by Letizia Diamante, illustrated by Claudia Flandoli

The reader becomes the hero in this children’s book about CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and particle physics. The story, punctuated with games and quizzes, offers a choice between the roles of student, researcher and tourist.

A constantly hungry cat named Schrody (for Schrödinger) serves as a guide, and a dinosaur named Jura (for the nearby Jura Mountains) lurks nearby. Immerse yourself in a detailed exploration of particles and forces and the workings of the world-famous research center. 

The Matter of Everything: Twelve Experiments That Changed Our World, by Suzie Sheehy

The depth and breadth of research by accelerator physicist and science communicator Suzie Sheehy is apparent in The Matter of Everything, in which she explores more than 200 years of advances and discoveries in particle physics. 

The book is the first for Sheehy, who conducts research at both the University of Oxford in Britain and the University of Melbourne in Australia. In it, Sheehy unearths critical but often overlooked contributors such as physicist Helen Edwards, who as a young scientist immediately became indispensable in the completion of “the cascade of accelerators” that would eventually become the Tevatron at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.