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Space Oddities

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An easy to ready science book for laypeople on the cutting edge research of physics, the many, many questions we still have about our universe, and the people studying these questions. Cliff humanizes the vastly theoretical subject area by zeroing on on the humans themselves, showing how all these great big complicated questions and occasional answers all come to a human really looking at something and going "huh, that's weird" - and looking some more.

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No, I didn't understand everything he talked about -- I've never actually taken a physics class -- but that didn't stop me from enjoying the heck out of this. Harry Cliff is passionate about his field. Towards the beginning, I got a kick out of how Cliff talked about how humans learned so much through the sheer force of their intellect and imagination while stuck on this rock.
Cliff discusses several topics related to modern physics (the field has changed so much over the years) and he talks about the ideas that have helped promote advancements in what we can understand. My favorite thing was when he talked about an experiment he was part of where the result was threatened when the results were released. So much drama in science!
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this

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It may be time to accept that particle physics may be just a bit over my head. By the time we get to “strange quarks” and “beauty quarks” I may be justified in thinking that those physicists are just messing with me.

Magnetic muons, missing antisocial neutrinos, muon neutrinos, pions, kaons, leptons, strong and weak forces, the standard model, beauty quarks, strange quarks — the list goes on and on and I’m starting to wonder if physics parties may just involve a bunch of quite *interesting* substances.

“Now, there is nothing that gets particle physicists more hot and bothered than a bump in a graph.”

The alphabet soup of tiny particles aside, I was fascinated by candid accounts of attempted physics breakthroughs (wouldn’t it be fun to find something new in physics and upend our understanding of reality?) that got thwarted by experiments agreeing with existing theories and not the new shiny ones, and the thresholds needed to show that the findings are actually significant and not just wishful thinking and chance (five sigmas!), and how sometimes experiment disagreeing with the theory may be due to flaws in the experiment and not the theory itself.

“The stakes are high, both for our understanding of nature and for the future of neutrino physics as a whole. Whatever happens, it’s clear that nature’s most elusive ingredients will continue to beguile, confuse, and fascinate for years to come. And if we keep searching, experimenting, and theorizing, there’s a chance that one day, perhaps not too far from now, they will give us our first opening into the dark universe, setting us off on a thrilling new journey of discovery.”

Harry Cliff presents the confusing (at least to me) subject very enthusiastically, to say the least, and patiently explains what must be elementary to him but a dense thicket of stuff to me — and it indeed starts making sense (well, for five minutes until my brain purges itself in favor of something easier), and that’s a skill. He’s frank about things that got people (including him) overexcited but did not win against the established theory, and the explanation of how scientific breakthroughs do NOT happen to me was just as interesting as if they had.

“[…] Whenever you are working at the limits of knowledge, you run the risk of making mistakes, but errors can be the greatest training of all. When I was an undergraduate, one of my tutors, a white-bearded wire of a man named Bob Butcher, had a simple phrase stuck above his desk that has stayed with me: “I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I think I’ll make another.”

I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of or will quite understand much about particle physics, but nevertheless this was quite interesting, even if I will forget it all shortly.

3.5 stars.


Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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From the smallest components of the universe to the largest, most massive celestial bodies, everything is tied together. Or it may be. Or maybe not. After reading this book all that you know for sure is how we know nothing, but that we are still learning from all that we don’t know. It’s amazing to see teams of the smartest minds on Earth trying to find discrepancies. They don’t want confirmation, they want to find something new. This book explores some of these projects and talks to many people who have devoted their lives to quantum physics, astronomy and cosmology. It is fascinating to look at the experiments taking place in what sound like science fiction laboratories. How the geniuses involved live day after day in Antarctica, or buried underground. How they can spend so much time and effort only to see it all unravel in a moment. The author works at CERN so you’d think it would be impossible to talk to someone so smart and yet he makes all these unbearably difficult concepts understandable to a layperson. I can’t say that I got it all, but I learned a lot and I was not completely lost during the quantum physics parts. With regards to astronomy, this book finally explained to me something I never got: how we know how far things are and how we know the composition of these objects. There are no big answers here, but it can make you understand how we can know what we don’t know. Fascinating!
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, #NetGalley/#Doubleday.

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Scientists puzzle over strange cosmic phenomena that defy traditional theories. Unprecedented energies erupt from Antarctic ice, mysterious forces pull at matter, and stars accelerate inexplicably. Are these signs of a new understanding of the universe—or mere tricks of data?

Interesting and informative, this book shows how scientists explore data anomalies, searching for discoveries to further our understanding of physics. Much of the time, the original results can’t be duplicated, leading to heartbreaking disappointments. Still, the stories are engaging and easy-to-read.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.

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The book "Space Oddities: The Mysterious Anomalies Challenging Our Understanding of the Universe" by Harry Cliff offers a fascinating and mind-expanding account of the inexplicable phenomena that science has only recently glimpsed. Cliff, an experimental physicist at CERN, takes the readers on a riveting journey across continents, meeting the men and women who are hunting for answers to the universe's most confounding puzzles.

What may frustrate some is that lack of answers to many of these oddities.
We've got a ways to go!

The book provides a of-the-moment look at the fields of physics and cosmology as they transform before us, investigating whether these anomalies are accidents of nature or could be pointing us toward vast, hidden worlds. With wonder, clarity, and a dose of humor, Cliff's narrative is both engaging and thought-provoking, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the mysteries of the universe.

Given the detailed and engaging exploration of unexplained phenomena in the universe, "Space Oddities" is a captivating and thought-provoking read that offers a fresh perspective on our understanding of the cosmos. The author's expertise and engaging narrative style make this book a valuable addition to the literature on physics and cosmology.

Whether you're a science enthusiast or simply curious about the mysteries of the universe, "Space Oddities" is sure to expand your mind and leave you with a sense of wonder about the unknown forces at play in the cosmos.

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Space Oddities is a captivating journey into the unknown realms of physics and cosmology, expertly guided by experimental physicist Harry Cliff. In this eye-opening account, Cliff explains many inexplicable phenomena that challenge our long-established theories of the universe, offering a tantalizing glimpse into the mysteries that lie beyond our current understanding.

What sets Space Oddities apart is its ability to distill complex scientific concepts into accessible narratives without sacrificing depth or precision. Cliff's passion for discovery shines through every page, inviting readers to join him in pondering the profound implications of the anomalies that defy conventional explanation.

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This is an exciting read on the state of the universe. The author is engaging and explains the concepts in this book thoroughly, working from a base, general physics level up to the more complex issues without sounding condescending. The book does get a little tedious at times, as wading through the nitty-gritty physics concepts is difficult as a non-physicist, no matter how well the author explains it. I would recommend this book to college students considering a physics-related future and adults interested in the state of physics today.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Doubleday for an advance copy of this look at our universe the questions that seem to be arising and what happen is everything we once thought was true became just theories or completely wrong.

There is a quote, "The more I know the less I understand" from the talented drummer, lyricist and singer Don Henley, which is close to another quote from noted Marilyn Monroe fancier Albert Einstein, "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know". Same meaning, different words. That is how many view science. One explanation is as good as another, as long as the answer is the same. Saves on learning new things. However science can't work like that, as without an understanding of why things happen, there can be no real growth. No furtherance of knowledge. The only problem is as Harry Cliff points out in his book Space Oddities: The Mysterious Anomalies Challenging Our Understanding of the Universe, the more we learn, the more confused scientists are finding themselves. Have scientists been on the wrong path or are there new truths awaiting us, maybe some sort of "...(I)t's full of stars" moments. Cliff looks at these conundrums, and offers new ways of thinking about a lot of things.

The book begins almost like a thriller but from real life. Different scenes from science, out in the field, in offices and on Zoom, with secret formulas, lots of lights under the ice and applause from other scientists in group chats. From there Cliff begins to look at some of the oddities that are appearing in science. The book moves to the thought that another planet was effecting the orbit of Mercury, an idea that was cleared up by Albert Einstein in the early part of the twentieth century. From there we jump to an important announcement, that turns out to have cooked the data to prove what the team wanted to prove. Cliff moves more into the present day, including stories about the people he has worked wth, and some of the odd things that are being observed, with many questions, and lots of hmm that's funny.

This is pretty heavy book in some spots, however Harry Cliff is a very good writer and while the material might be dense, Cliff explains everything well, and makes it well sometimes not easy but followable. I never felt lost, maybe a little behind sometimes, but Cliff brought me back. Cliff has a nice writing style, smart, and yet funny with plenty of anecdotes, and stories about the people involved, that helps in making some of the science relatable. There were a lot of oh that seems important, or oh if they are confused that should be something that people should really get onto. A very interesting read, one I was not expecting, but enjoyed quite a bit.

Recommended for science readers who find pop science books kind of dull. There is some dense thoughts here, but again Cliff is very good explaining this. Burgeoning science fiction writers will probably get a lot out of this, as the science is pretty cutting edge, and the there are a lot of ideas here that could make for interesting novels. This is the first book I have read by Cliff, but I plan to read some of Cliff's earlier books, as this had a lot of fascinating moments.

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Thanks to Harry Cliff, Doubleday Books, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I decided to request this book due to my love of all things space, science, and nature. I found this book to be an interesting combination of science/particle physics and space/astrophysics. And while both are topics of particular interest to me, I was surprised to find that most of this book talked about particle physics, and the nuanced, and seemingly chaotic relationship that has resulted in so many unknowns about the universe and our existence. It also provides a unique insight into the history of particle physics, and how so much of our understanding and knowledge has been developed in recent years. It also provides interesting context about how little of the universe has been discovered, and how much of it is unknown.

The topics discussed within the book are complex, even when summarized in layman’s terms. However, Harry Cliff does a good job of providing appropriate context, weaving in personal stories, and using appropriate language to make these difficult topics easier to understand. Kudos, Harry!

I do think that the book summary should be updated to better communicate the complex topics of particle physics that consume more than 50+% of the book.

Overall, I provided this book with 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4 stars. I would recommend this book to a friend, although with caution that the topics are difficult, and it should be read only if you have a passion for particle physics and/or astrophysics.

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There's nothing a scientist loves more than something that's not supposed to be there. No thrill is great than those instances where what we think we know and what is really there — our theories and our experiments — don't quite match up, because where there's an anomaly, there's the potential for new science. Space Oddities is all about such anomalies, Most of the time, the thrill is fleeting. It’s a statistical fluke, a mistake in the math, a flaw in the experiment, and there’s nothing exciting to be had. Sometimes, though, sometimes, there is Nobel gold in them thar hills. From neutrinos that shouldn’t be there to forces that might not actually exist to the very fact that there is matter in the universe at all, not everything adds up neatly in our picture of the universe, while in other areas our theories are astoundingly accurate. What exactly this means and how to reconcile it is the whole endeavor of physics today, which Cliff deftly explores.

With clarity, humor, and empathy, Cliff guides us through the history and present of the oddities that have — and have not — shaken physics to its core and led the way to a better understanding of the universe and the stuff in it. Having had his own anomaly go from exciting divergence to experimental mishap, Cliff knowns both the elation and the heartache firsthand.

An engaging and readable account — no mean feat! — of cutting-edge physics, this is one of my favorite popular science books in some time. Highly recommended!

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There are many great science books on the market, and many that cover cutting edge physics. But it is rare to find one that covers experimental physics so well.

First off this book is very specific in its subject matter. It covers some of the recent open questions in particle physics and astrophysics. This book doesn't give the answers just shows what questions are trying to be answered, and where physicists have stumbled in their pursuit of the answers. This is not a rebuke of the science or the scientist, it just tells the story of how hard science can be. But what is most interesting in this book is how it describes and details the experiments, how the are performed and how they are developed. Many of the esteemed popular science books, by the likes of Tyson, Hawking, and Green all attempt to explain theory, but they do not go into detail on the experimental side. This is where this book shine.

Harry Cliff is able to take very complex subjects and explain them clearly in laymen's terms. Using analogies where needed, but not over using, providing limited equations and math, so as not to scare aware the novice, but also giving some more detail to satisfy the expert.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in physics.

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Arresting insight into the head-scratching conundrums of the universe that have befuddled physicists and cosmologists for decades. Whether it's outlining the ghostly behavior of neutrinos and muons, highlighting the cryptic nature of dark matter and energy, or dissecting the experimental anomalies that arise as scientists attempt to close in on a unified theory of the universe, Harry Cliff gives readers bite-sized intel into the oddities that shape our physical reality. Big and small. It's fascinating!

I think what struck me most about this book is that there's still so much we don't know about what we think we already know about the universe. For instance, there might be evidence to suggest that the so-called "standard model" in physics is wrong. Or, if not wrong, then at least missing elements that have yet to be uncovered. Incredible, really!

Definitely worth a read for all of you existential thinkers out there!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for the ARC in exchange for my review!

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Thanks to Harry Cliff, Doubleday Books, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As a person very interested in science and physics in particular, I found this book very interesting. We often hear about scientific results or breakthroughs; this tells the story of the anomalies that caused scientists to dig deeper because something didn’t fit with known expectations. The author also explores the great lengths the scientists go to ensure that unexpected errors do not taint the results.

I found the book readable. There is a section that goes into particle physics, but the author does a good job of keeping things at an understandable level.

Review posted manually on Goodreads due to linking issues.

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I'm very interested in all things space, so I looked forward to this one. I felt that the author was able to describe things in a manner that anyone would be able to understand. I enjoyed it very much, and I'd recommend adding it to your to be read list as soon as it's available.
Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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I really enjoyed reading this one. I read a lot of popular science books, and this one stands out based on writing style alone. The author is very good at describing each experiment in context, pulling in the reader as he lays out the background, the people, and the results. I usually stay away from the human side of these stories, focusing nt on the science itself, but the author was so good at it that I wanted to hear their stories. Kudos for that.

To balance the review with a criticism, I found the section on CERN too long. I think the author was the proudest of that because of his involvement, so he went on at greater length than the other sections. Other readers may find that as involving as I foudn the other chapters, but I felt it neede editing.

I recommend the book to popular science readers who want to hear about various particle, astrophysics, etc,. experiments and the people who make them happen. It's an engaging read.

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