Fields Apart

By Sam Kean

“Shut up and calculate!” As physics became more mathematical and abstract during the past century, that phrase—first uttered by physicist David Mermin—became its mantra. Indeed, the more that physicists stopped worrying about what their complicated equations meant and simply ran the numbers, the more progress they made. Some of their predictions have now been confirmed by experiments to 10 decimal places or more— the most accurate predictions in history. But the cost of this progress was striking: physics became more and more alienating as fewer and fewer people understood it.

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The Infinity Puzzle, By Frank Close, Basic Books, 435 pp., $28.99

Physics on the Fringe, By Margaret Wertheim, Walker, 323 pp., $27

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