Current understanding of the physics of elementary particles is founded
upon the Identification of quarks and leptons as the basic constituents of
all matter and the development of mathematically similar gauge theories of
all the fundamental interactions. So concisely can the resulting "Standard
Model" be stated that it is easy to slight the body of experimental
information which led to the insights that guide our thinking.
Particularly susceptible to omission are the great mass of experiments, not
from which there emerge partial patterns, then order born of theoretical
insight, and finally systematics to be reproduced and explained by any
candidate for a fundamental theory. The Particle Hunters traces the
evolution of elementary particle physics from the end of the 19th
century to the present day. Its strong point is the attention to the
interplay between observation and analysis, which is the essence of
Ne'eman's decisive contribution to the subject: breaking the code of the
partially revealed patterns of strongly interacting particles and injecting the
unitary symmetry group SU(3) into the consciousness of
From antiquity until the first experimental evidence for the reality of
quarks in the late 1960s, the book gives a good description of how
progress was made,
with a sensible balance between theory and experiment, and at least a hint
that confusion is often the forerunner of enlightenment. Most
interesting is the treatment of symmetry and the personal account of
the path toward SU(3). The later chapters, dealing with the development of
the Standard Model and the new questions that arise from it, are cursory
and erratic in comparison.
The book requires a committed reader; an undergraduate student already
attracted by particle physics would gain valuable perspective from a
The presentation is marred by an unwholesome preoccupation with prizes.
In too many cases, the importance of a contribution is justified by citing
an award conferred on the principals, rather than by explaining why the
work changed the way we think. Forgoing this appeal to authority would
have resulted in a stronger and more engaging survey.
Chris Quigg, Theoretical Physics, Fermi National Accelerator