Monday, January 24, 2011

Frank Close's "Nothing: A Very Short Introduction"

The book is a bit misleading. I expected something more philosophical. But this is simply a review of modern physics and its account of the Big Bang and "the vacuum", the two candidates that Close examines as the concern about "nothingness".

As a review of physics the book is adequate. It does cover all the relevant concepts including a review of classical physics. But I'm left feeling unmotivated for the answers he provides. Sure that's what modern physics has come to. But he needs to recognize that the broader audience wants to know "why" this picture. The passing nod to a broader picture comes with a few quotes from religion and early philosophy mulling over "the void", "chaos", and "something from nothing". I really pine for a writer like Isaac Asimov who could both explicate and excite. Maybe the physics has simply gotten harder, or maybe my enthusiasm as a new initiate has jaded me to the later writers, but I find that most modern explicators fall flat. But I do know that there are solid scientists who can make a subject come alive. I think of Lewis Thomas in biology. Modern physics has been better presented by writers like Paul Davies or John Gribbin.

I find the writing style to be moe turgid and less lucid than I would like for a general reader. He tries to explain physics concepts but I find he always ends a bit short of something satisfying. I think the problem is that Close is not a "pictorial" reasoner. More diagrams and illustrations and more imaginative representation of concepts would give the public a better handhold.

The few times he uses math he doesn't motivate or explicate sufficiently. I have no problem with equations so long as they are "interpreted" so that any math I don't know is at least explained to the point where I have a "feeling" for what the equation is saying.

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