The concept of symmetry has seen increasing service in science popularizations as a metaphor to convey the intuitive appeal of physics, a vogue that continues in this dense treatise. Nobel Laureate Lederman (The God Particle) and theoretical physicist Hill deploy mathematical symmetry as a unifying theme in a tour of physics from Newton's laws to quarks and superstrings. Sometimes, as in a demonstration that the invariance of physical laws through time implies the law of conservation of energy, this approach yields insights. But usually, as in their confusing exposition of special relativity, symmetry considerations get in the way. The authors keep things readable with lots of physics-for-poets bits, including some tie-ins to environmentalism, comparisons of modern cosmology with ancient Greek myths, and a fictional dialogue—partly in Italian—between two newlywed physicists and Galileo's ghost. Unfortunately, symmetry is a forbiddingly abstract branch of mathematics that was peripheral to the development of much of physics and gives little tangible feel for its substance, and the point where it becomes indispensable to discussions of modern physics is also the tipping point where the book, like many others, topples into total incomprehensibility to laypeople. Readers who think symmetry implies clarity and grace will be disappointed. Photos.
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