Using a form of organization borrowed from classical music--a theme with variations, with preludes and intermezzi--the authors describe ten fundamental themes in modern physics, including uniformity, transformations, inevitability, and symmetry. They hope to convey to the reader a sense of the historical context of current physics research, the discoveries themselves, and the beauty in science which the nonscientist seldom sees. Currently accepted and rejected theories are never presented simply as true or false. Instead, the reasons why the theories are deemed right or wrong by the scientific community are carefully examined, so that the reader has a sense of the process as well as of the result.
What distinguishes this popular exposition from many others is the integration of the human element into the accounts of breakthroughs in theoretical physics. As a participant in some of the events himself, Frank Wilczek is aware of the joys and frustrations of research at the frontier of knowledge. He also understands that events are never as straightforward as the subsequent summations in popular expositions imply. The authors communicate the emotions that scientists feel as they struggle to understand the complexity and beauty of the universe.
With the exceptions of forgoing mathematics, the authors offer few concessions to readers. Sophisticated concepts and an unfamiliar terminology make demands which will discourage the less motivated. For those willing to invest the necessary time and intellectual energy, however, this book offers access to the essence of contemporary physics.