Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round up the new books you should and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Elusive: How Peter Higgs Solved the Mystery of Mass by Frank Close, You Have a Friend in 10A by Maggie Shipstead and The Twilight World by Werner Herzog.
For more books, take a look through our Books Digest Archive.
Elusive: How Peter Higgs Solved the Mystery of Mass by Frank Close (Penguin Books, £16.69)
In 1964 a young and withdrawn scientist at the University of Edinburgh proposed the existence of a small yet significant particle. Known today as the Higgs boson, it is the key to how most fundamental particles obtain their mass and serves as the final missing piece of the Standard Model of physics.
It wasn’t until almost 50 years later at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva that scientists were able to confirm its existence, bringing with it a new age of scientific discovery. Equally as elusive as his namesake, however, on the announcement of his Nobel prize, the scientist, Peter Higgs, was nowhere to be found.
Published on the tenth anniversary of its discovery, Elusive has been described as “the first major biography of Peter Higgs”. Author Frank Close — a well-established science writer, professor of physics at Oxford University and long-term friend and colleague of Peter Higgs — seems less sure, describing his work as “not so much a biography of the man but of the boson named after him”.
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Close elegantly traces the course of 21st century physics — from the birth of quantum field theory to the evolution of the Standard model up to its completion. Interspersed in this scientific timeline, we are given insights into the “shy, modest” man behind the boson, biographical details providing more of a brief sketch than a fulsome story of his life.
Close’s expertise is apparent. A lucid writer, he navigates the complexities behind the boson with ease and enthusiasm, painting a clear, almost beautiful portrait of a scientific breakthrough and giving life to the “holy grail of particle physics”.
You Have a Friend in 10A by Maggie Shipstead (Transworld, £13.15)
Just over a year after the publication of her third novel, The Great Circle (shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize and the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction), Maggie Shipstead is back with a collection of ten short stories, written over the course of a decade.
The stories are filled with a myriad of characters and Shipstead effortlessly shifts her narrative voice to embody each one. We meet a child-star turned addict who has left her daughter behind in the Hollywood cult she found herself entrapped in, a miserable watercolourist, a group of women abandoned on an island and the middle-aged owner of a ranch (to name but a few).
There is a touch of Grimms Fairytales in her short stories; a dark twist or a moral message often arises out of the ordinary. This is particularly evident in La Moretta, a standout story from the book. La Moretta tells the story of a poorly matched couple who decide, during the course of their honeymoon driving through Europe, that their marriage was a mistake. Shipstead lulls the reader into believing that the realisation of their incompatibility is the story’s climax, only to gruesomely turn the story on its head in the last few pages.
Such is the skill of Shipstead, to write ten vastly different stories, all of which are entirely immersing and satisfyingly concise yet never fail to adhere to her unique tone of voice. I only wish there were ten more.
The Twilight World by Werner Herzog (Vintage Publishing, £11.09)
Werner Herzog’s debut novel is a marvel of escapism. Sitting, as I am whilst writing this, on a heavily delayed flight, The Twilight World offers a window into an enthralling journey that isn’t hampered by baggage delays.
Herzog masterfully paints the world that, in 1974, was still one man’s battleground, in a war that had ended almost 30 years earlier. Embedding yourself in a story so fantastic as Hiroo Onoda’s, makes you wonder how it can be anything but a fantasy. Onoda’s war was a tragic one. Three decades on Lubang island in the Philippines saw the soldier suffer a meagre existence, stealing from nearby villages to sustain himself and his comrades — men whom he gradually lost until he was totally alone.
Most brutally though, Onoda lost the most valuable commodity: time. Hiroo Onoda spent almost a third of his life in the jungle, whilst the world continued to move on without him. For 29 years Onoda fought a war that had long since ended — away from normal life in Japan, his wife, and any semblance of a normal life during peacetime.
This doesn’t mean that I, nor anyone else, should refrain from complaining about being behind schedule, but you could do far worse than picking up The Twilight World to pass the time.