Where and when does the story in a Science Book happen? That’s substantiated by the background. Every story has at least one. Some have many, like the ones in this book: every particle in this tale has a past, a present and a future.
There's a world of mystery in physics these days as well, and it was fun reading about that mystery described with words that invite individual exploration. Besides being inscrutable (for the layman or -woman), physics is also beautiful.
The search for the God’s Particle, ie,the Higg’s Boson, has been one of my main interests physics-wise. It makes me toggle between the tiny and the infinite, between eternity and the real time of the recent past.
“A Palette of Particles” allows us to compare with what Ernest Rutherford and his fellow merry men were able to do only on tabletops with a very small number of people involved, and, by contrast, with what the physicists nowadays need to do to search for the God’s Particle. It involves detectors the size of a building and thousands of people!
The God’s Particle was introduced by Peter Higgs in a form of electrodynamics that began with a massless photon and some bosons that couple to each other in a special way and to the photon. Electrodynamics has a strange property, which is an apparent symmetry that breaks spontaneously. If it were not broken, the photon would remain massless. But with this breaking, something wonderful (hence the name “God’s Particle”) then happens, ie, the massless photon grows a mass, and Electrodynamics gets a massive boson, which is called the Higgs Boson universally (Peter Higgs got the Nobel Prize in 2013 for his prediction in the 60’s). This is just a very basic explanation. You’ve got to see the mathematics to believe it (incidentally in Weinberg’s electroweak theory we begin with also a symmetric setup in which is both the photons and the weak mesons have no mass. The symmetry is also spontaneously broken and the same miracle happens, ie, the weak mesons get a mass and the photon doesn’t. God must be at work here surely…).
Who needs SF when reality is better than fiction…?
Jeremy Bernstein was able to give us a very thorough high-level grasp of what the particle jungle is nowadays. He also covered the material in a very down-to-earth manner. The graphics that accompany the book are also extremely valuable. We still need the math to understand it, but they surely help us understand what is going on in the field of Particle Physics.
Footnote: A friend of mine working in the physics field has always been very critical of the String Theory (it’s very difficult to build contraptions to test it). As Einstein would say: “Da könnt’ mir halt der lieber Gott Leid tun, die Theorie simmt doch”… (Then I’d have been sorry for the dear God. The theory is right”).
NB: SF = Speculative Fiction.