The Particle At The End of The Universe – Sean Carroll

 

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I decided to read this book because it won the Royal Society prize for science books a number of years ago. I usually attempt to give either the winner or shortlisted books on the list a go. All the books from the prize in the past have been excellent reads, so I was very excited to tackle this book. The book explains the hunt for the Higgs particle and how it was studied and discovered.

The beginning of the book is absolutely excellent. It gives a defence of why particle physics is important and fascinating and really gives the reader an almost child-like excitement about studying particle physics. Sean Carroll does a great job of simply explaining what particle physics is and how the various particles are the building blocks of the world and universe we see around us.

However what follows in the preceding chapters is so incredibly challenging at points that the book at times was no longer enjoyable. However before I continue, I must note that I have no physics background at all. The most I studied in physics was the basic atom diagram we learnt when I was roughly 14! So very quickly the book became extremely in depth about the many various particles and their makeup and symmetry etc. The author does occasionally try to explain some difficult sections with easy to understand examples, but they were far too rare for a reader with my limited knowledge! For instance, rather embarrassingly if someone was to ask me to explain exactly the science behind the Higgs boson, I would still struggle to give them an answer. However if you have done physics, you may find his explanations perfectly understandable.

However the novel does an excellent job in explaining the narrative of the LHC and the CERN project. It is truly an amazing story of how they overcame huge obstacles. It required huge cross-country support and funding, and it is a real success story of what can be achieved in the scientific world. I also really enjoyed the chapters towards the end of the book which predicted some of physics other huge unsolved puzzles, and how they could be linked to this historical finding.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a prior grasp or understanding on particle physics. I found the book extremely challenging because I lacked this understanding. However for people at my level of physics knowledge, there is still an incredible tale of scientific curiosity and collaboration which will interest anyone.

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Leinster 52 – Zebre 0

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The few that made the trip to the RDS on Friday night were treated to an extremely one sided game of rugby. Although the rugby on show was very entertaining, I must start by commenting on the weakness of this Zebre team. From the very offset, the opposition looked disjointed and uninspired. It must be soul-destroying playing in this Zebre team, who are unlikely to win many games in the season, with the exception of Trevisio and one or two other teams. I found it incredibly confusing to see Mils Muliaina enter the fray late in the game for Zebre. How strange it must be for a player who played over 100 times for the All Blacks, to play for a team who looked so unlikely to even challenge this Leinster team.

Once again this Leinster team has been seriously depleted because of the Six Nations. But the silver-lining for Cullen will surely be the incredible talent Leinster seem to be able to produce through their academy. The backline had a very young look to it and they seemed to be really enjoying their rugby. Once again the limited opposition played their part in making this young team look good, but credit still has to be given to how the young players  have adapted in the absence of the big stars this season.

The style of rugby Leo has got the team to play this season has been very exciting. He thankfully has torn up the playbook from the Matt O’Connor era, where the onus seemed to be on forcing the opposition into making mistakes. Instead he has inspired the team to focus on attacking rugby and keeping the ball in hand. Friday night was another example of this, with the whole team looking comfortable with ball in hand, and with the backline running some really nice plays. Credit has to go to Girvan Dempsey who seems to be succeeding as backs coach, but also because of the way the youngsters coming through the academy he used to run, appear to already be up to speed with the senior team’s playing style.

I think the youngsters did exceptionally well, but praise has to be given to some of the experienced players who added the composure and class at key stages. I thought Zane Kirchner played really well, and his huge kicks to touch from open play or penalties gave Leinster key territory and attacking platforms. Also Nacewa scored a lovely try and also attacked really positively throughout the first half. I also thought Jordi Murphy had a great game and will have caught the attention of Schmidt. However I don’t think Healy was anywhere near his usual standards and I don’t think Schmidt will be rushing to throw him in next game in the 6 Nations.

 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

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(Read between 03/01/2016 – 11/01/2016)

I had heard of this book from various people over the years and decided to give it a go as my first book of 2016! The book concerns two men and two women predominantly. The novel takes place in the Prague Spring era of 1968. The main characters are Tomas, Tereza , Sabrina and Franz.

The novel is constantly referred to as a philosophical masterpiece and I approached the book thinking it would read like most other philosophical books. But this book is different from other philosophical books I have read in that it is more a novel which tackles modern philosophical issues through its narrative and characters.

The ‘lightness’ the title refers to is in regards to our lives. Kundera challenges Nietzsche’s suggestion that life is ever reoccurring, and instead counters that we only have one life and one chance. The lightness also refers to how different people view love. Each character in the novel has a different attitude to love and how they love others. Some characters see love as an extremely important issue and one which should be reserved for the very special. However other characters see love as an everyday occurrence and don’t consider the act of loyalty within love as an important aspect.

The novel does a great job of displaying the wide ranging views of love through an absorbing narrative, which connects each character through their various attitudes. In my opinion the novel is so engrossing because each character and their various outlooks are extremely realistic. Kundera doesn’t tell us outright what he believes, but instead presents each character’s view to both love and life, none of which are “wrong” or “right”.

Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed is its simplicity. Most works of philosophy I have read tend to be difficult to grasp and understand. In contrast, this novel is extremely easy to read and grasp. Because the book is a narrative, there are many interpretations of what is occurring and I believe that various readers will take extremely different views of what the book means to them. Therefore I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a philosophical piece but is concerned about understanding and interpreting the meanings.