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the Complete Review
the complete review - science

The Perfect Wave

Heinrich Päs

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To purchase The Perfect Wave

Title: The Perfect Wave
Author: Heinrich Päs
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2011) (Eng. 2014)
Length: 255 pages
Original in: (German)
Availability: The Perfect Wave - US
The Perfect Wave - UK
The Perfect Wave - Canada
Die perfekte Welle - Deutschland
  • With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time
  • An earlier version of this book was published in German, as Die perfekte Welle: Mit Neutrinos an die Grenzen von Raum und Zeit

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Our Assessment:

B : solid introduction, and interesting look at the implications of neutrino-physics

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 1/2/2014 .
Wall St. Journal . 15/4/2014 John Gribbin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr Päs, for his part, places neutrinos within the broader context of contemporary high theory and delves deeper into the science. Physics buffs will relish his explanations, and not just of established ideas such as the seesaw mechanism." - The Economist

  • "Some science books are good because they tell you a lot about science. Some are good because they present their examples and argument in very well written prose. A few do both. The Perfect Wave is one of the few. (...) I can highly recommend The Perfect Wave as a pleasant and provocative way to gain insight into the way physicists think, and into the way the universe (probably) works." - John Gribbin, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Somewhat worryingly, The Perfect Wave begins with Heinrich Päs recounting a day at the beach, surfing, a peripatetic postdoc finding himself at the University of Hawai'i and finding a new hobby. Wave-metaphors in particle physics ... there's a novelty that might have worn thin by now -- but even if it is a bit forced, Päs offers a different spin on it here (though not before offering pearls such as: "Physics ideas are like the Hawaiian surf" ...), describing the wave-inspired idea that came to him here, of traveling not across, say the surface of a carpet or water but, with it buckled into a wave, via an extra-dimension, through the curled-over part -- potentially what amounts to back in time. It is a more thorough explanation of this idea that he ultimately gets to in The Perfect Wave, with the neutrino playing a central role (hence the subtitle: With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time), but first he guides readers along through the basic physics and the evolution of neutrino-physics -- a burgeoning field in which fascinating work, both theoretical and experimental, has been done in recent years..
       As Päs suggests, the neutrino sure seems to be the most exotic elementary particle:

Although sixty billion neutrinos pass every second through each square centimeter of the surface of the earth -- as well as through every human body, or any other object -- these particles penetrate through us and the whole earth's interior as if through thin air. And although every neutrino weighs less than one millionth the weight of the tiny electron (which itself is 10-27 grams !), they are so abundant that altogether they contribute about as much mass to the universe as all the stars combined.
       Because they are so elusive -- as in hard to get any actual measure of (with, as Päs notes, at that level, 'measurement' in any case being inherently complicated by the fact that the act of observation has its own consequences) and hence also difficult to experimentally get a better sense of, neutrinos remain something a mystery-particle. In describing recent advances and theories, Päs offers a good, quick tour of recent and current neutrino-physics. He's particularly good in relating it to the broader picture of physics -- the idea of a 'Grand Unified Theory', and alternatives such as string theory -- leading also, finally, to his consideration of how neutrinos might allow a type of time-travel.
       In its focus on the actual physics (though with a good deal of historical and incidental digression (all the way to LSD-trips ...)) and theory, The Perfect Wave nicely complements Frank Close's more experimentally- (i.e. neutrino-finding-)focused introduction Neutrino . Päs strikes a good balance between scientific detail and accessibility (though some of the name-dropping can get to be a bit much -- admirable credit-giving, but often without going (sufficiently) into exactly what everyone contributed it makes it feel a bit crowded and rushed), and while he ultimately directs the story towards his own pet project and theory (fascinating though that too is) he still manages to give a good sense of the current state of neutrino physics and the other theories and implications of these.
       A fine overview and introduction, suitable for the the interested lay-reader (i.e. not too technical).

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 February 2014

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The Perfect Wave: Reviews: Heinrich Päs: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German physicist Heinrich Päs teaches at the TU Dortmund.

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