Fearful Symmetry

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Organizing his discussion around the concept of symmetry, which he believes is the foundation of modern physics, Anthony Zee provides a lucid overview of the theoretical and experimental breakthroughs which have led to the present state of our knowledge of the universe. He offers both a condensed history of physical discovery and a summation of the facts. His chief concern, however, is the communication to nonscientists of the sense of beauty which physicists detect in the world and in their theories. It is the search for this beauty which motivates and drives scientists; its unfolding furnishes one of the great intangible rewards to the researcher.

To Zee, physics research is an attempt to read the mind of the Creator. He is convinced that the Creator’s plan for the universe is simple and beautiful. Starting from relatively uncomplicated concepts and definitions and drawing upon analogies from fields familiar to nonscientists, such as architecture or sports, Zee demonstrates the overall simplicity and unity of the world according to physicists, despite the complexity of facts which have been uncovered. Assisting him in his exposition is a sense of humor and many illustrations and diagrams.

Because of its reliance upon an understanding of group theory and its intellectual sophistication, this is not an easy popular science exposition. It provides insights, however, that are rarely found in the nontechnical literature.