Instead of doing the work I had planned, I spent much of today having a very enjoyable time reading the mystery novel The Newtonian Legacy by particle theorist Nick Evans. A copy is available at his web-site here, and there’s a FAQ about the book here (I pretty much agree with his LHC predictions).
The book is well-done, very entertaining, and a good read that keeps you wanting to know what will happen next. It includes lots of popular-level explanations about particle physics and the ideas particle theorists are studying these days, so it might be an excellent way to introduce someone to these ideas. It is set at a fictional theoretical physics research institute in England, and many of the characters are particle theorists of one stripe or another (string theorists, phenomenologists, lattice gauge theorists).
The novel includes quite a few amusing portrayals of characters embodying the current sociology of particle theory: a postdoc trying to decide whether to write into the Rumor Mill to tell them he is on a short list at a place he’d rather not go to in hopes of getting other places to offer him a job, a lattice gauge theorist who stalks out of a string theorist’s talk in disgust, postdocs comparing the string theory landscape to religion, a self-satisfied American physicist from the West Coast convinced that string theory has the answers to the ultimate questions of science, and quite a few others.
The main character, Carl Vespers, is a particle theorist who, besides getting involved in the investigation of a mysterious death and having people trying to kill him, has to contend with more than one attractive woman throwing themselves at him, tempting him away from his long-distance girlfriend. All in all, a highly accurate portrayal of the life of a typical particle theorist. Highly recommended.
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