Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: Cliff Taubes' Differential Geometry: Bundles, Metrics, Connections and Curvature

By Karo Locascio

Differential geometry is the branch of advanced mathematics that probably has more quality textbooks then just about any other. It has some true classics that everyone agrees should at least be browsed. It seems lately everyone and his cousin is trying to write The Great American Differential Geometry Textbook. It's really not hard to see why: The subject of differential geometry is not only one of the most beautiful and fascinating applications of calculus and topology,it's also one of the most powerful.The language of manifolds is the natural language of most aspects of both classical and modern physics - neither general relativity or particle physics can be correctly expressed without the concepts of coordinate charts on differentiable manifolds, Lie groups or fiber bundles. I was really looking forward to the finished text based on Cliff Taubes' Math 230 lectures for the first year graduate student DG course at Harvard, which he has taught on and off there for a number of years. A book by a recognized master of the subject is to be welcomed, as one can hope they bring their researcher's perspective to the material.
Well, the book's finally here and I'm sorry to report it's a bit of a letdown. The topics covered in the book are the usual suspects for a first year graduate course,albeit covered at a somewhat higher level then usual: smooth manifolds, Lie groups, vector bundles, metrics on vector bundles, Riemannian metrics, geodesics on Riemannian manifolds, principal bundles, covariant derivatives and connections, holonomy, curvature polynomials and characteristic classes, Riemannian curvature tensor, complex manifolds, holomorphic submanifolds of a complex manifold and Kähler metrics. On the positive side, it's VERY well written and covers virtually the entire current landscape of modern differential geometry.The presentation is as much as possible self-contained, given that all told, the book has 298 pages and consists of 19 bite-size chapters. Professor Taubes gives detailed yet concise proofs of basic results, which demonstrates his authority in the subject. So an enormous amount is covered very efficiently but quite clearly. Each chapter contains a detailed bibliography for additional reading, which is one of the most interesting aspects of the book-the author comments on other works and how they have influenced his presentation. His hope is clearly that it will inspire his students to read the other recommended works concurrently with his, which shows excellent educational values on the author's part. Unfortunately,this approach is a double edged sword since it goes hand in hand with one of the book's faults, which we'll get to momentarily.
Taubes writes very well indeed and he peppers his presentation with his many insights. Also, it has many good and well chosen examples in each section, something I feel is very important. It even covers material on complex manifolds and Hodge theory, which most beginning graduate textbooks avoid because of the technical subtleties of separating the strictly differential-geometric aspects from the algebraic geometric ones. So what's in here is very good indeed. (Interestingly, Taubes credits his influence for the book to be the late Rauol Bott's legendary course at Harvard. So many recent textbooks and lecture notes on the subject credit Bott's course with their inspiration: Loring Tu's An Introduction to Manifolds, Ko Honda's lecture notes at USCD, Lawrence Conlon's Differentiable Manifolds among the most prominent. It's very humbling how one expert teacher can define a subject for a generation.)
Unfortunately, there are 3 problems with the book that make it a bit of a disappointment and they all have to do with what's not in the book. The first and most serious problem with Taubes' book is that it's not really a textbook at all, it's a set of lecture notes. It has zero exercises. Indeed-the book looks like Oxford University Press just took the final version of Taubes' online notes and slapped a cover on them. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, of course - some of the best sources there are on differential geometry (and advanced mathematics in general) are lecture notes (S.S.Chern and John Milnors's classic notes come to mind). But for coursework and something you want to pay considerable money for-you really want a bit more then just a printed set of lecture notes someone could have downloaded off the web for free.
They're also a lot harder to use as a textbook since you need to look elsewhere for exercises. I don't think a corresponding set of exercises from the author who designed the text to test your understanding is really too much to ask for in something you're spending 30-40 bucks on, is it? Is that the real motivation behind the very detailed and opinionated references for each chapter-the students are not merely encouraged to look at some of these concurrently, but required in order to find their own exercises? If so, it really should have been specifically spelled out and it shows some laziness on the part of the author. When it's a set of lecture notes designed to frame an actual course where the instructor is there to guide the students through the literature for what's missing, that works fine. In fact, it might make for even more exciting and productive course for the students. But if you're writing a textbook, it really needs to be completely self contained so that whatever other references you suggest, it's strictly optional. Every course is different and if the book doesn't contain it's own exercises that limits enormously how dependent the course can be on the text. I'm sure Taubes has all the problem sets from the various sections of the original course - I'd strongly encourage him to include a substantial set of them in the second edition.
The second problem - although this isn't as serious as the first - is that from a researcher of Taubes' credentials, you'd expect a little more creativity and insight into what all this good stuff is good for. OK, granted, this is a beginners' text and you can't go too far off the basic playbook or it's going to be useless as a foundation for later studies. That being said, a closing chapter summarizing the current state of play in differential geometry using all the machinery that had been developed - particularly in the realm of mathematical physics - would help a lot to give the novice a exciting glimpse into the forefront of a major branch of pure and applied mathematics. He does digress sometimes into nice original material that's usually not touched in such books: The Schwarzchild metric, for instance. But he doesn't give any indication why it's important or it's role in general relativity.
Lastly - there's virtually no pictures in the book. None. Zero. Nada. OK, granted this is a graduate level text and graduate students really should draw their own pictures. But to me, one of the things that makes differential geometry so fascinating is that it's such a visual and visceral subject: One gets the feeling in a good classical DG course that if you were clever enough, you could prove just about everything with a picture. Giving a completely formal, non-visual presentation removes a lot of that conceptual excitement and makes it look a lot drier and less interesting then it really is. In that second edition, I'd consider including some visuals. You don't have to add many if you're a purist. But a few, particularly in the chapters on characteristic classes and sections of vector and fiber bundles, would clarify these parts immensely.
So the final verdict? A very solid source from which to learn DG for the first time at the graduate level, but it'll need to be supplemented extensively to fill in the shortcomings. Fortunately, each chapter comes with a very good set of references. Good supplementary reading and exercises can easily be selected from these. I would strongly recommend Guillemin and Pollack's classic Differential Topology as preliminary reading, the "trilogy" by John M.Lee for collateral reading and exercises, the awesome 2 volume physics-oriented text Geometry, Topology and Gauge Fields by Gregory Naber for connections and applications to physics as well as many good pictures and concrete computations. For a deeper presentation of complex differential geometry, try the classic by Wells and the more recent text Complex Differential Geometry by Zhang. With all these to compliment Taubes, you'll be in excellent shape for a year long course in modern differential geometry.
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A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: Compared to the Findings of CERN's Boson Experiment

By Bhimarao Sathyanarayanan

1. Introduction:
Stephen Hawking is considered one of the best popular Science writers across the Globe. Especially his book 'A Brief History of Time' is the best seller among the books on popular science, dealing with evolution of Universe from Big Bang to Black Holes.
Various aspects of evolution of Universe on the basis of Physics have been dealt with, in a powerful manner in the book and it deserves best laurels. But any theory of Physics needs empirical proof and the undersigned author tried to analyse the theories with the experimental findings of a magnificent experiment at the order of recent CERN experiment, otherwise known as Hadron experiment. The results of the analysis are given below.
The purpose of this article is to first, present the theories put forward by Stephen Hawking in his book and second, compare it with the findings of CERN experiment and other popular books written by Erwin Schrodinger, Fritjof Capra, J.B.S.Haldane, Ernst Opik and to bring forth the point that the three major findings of the book lack experimental support.
2. The Questions Considered in the Book 'A Brief History of Time':
The primary questions put forward by Stephen Hawking in the book are:
Was there a beginning of Time?
Could Time run backwards?
Is the Universe infinite or does it have boundaries?
3. Question no1, Concept of TIME According to Stephen Hawking:
Stephen Hawking in this book has taken the concept of increase in Entropy as a measure of time. In fact he defines three concepts to define the concept of arrow of Time as:
1. The increase in Entropy,
2. The Psychological Time. In the order of sequence by which we serialise the happenings and
3. The direction by which the Universe is expanding (Chapter 9, Arrow of Time)
Though he considers all the above three as true reflections of Time arrow (Time moving forward) he gives prominence to Entropy because he considers increase in Entropy as a measurable quantity and reversible exactly in reverse direction to enable Time travel in both directions. We already know that Entropy (disorder) increases with increase in time. Hence he concludes that increase in Entropy is increase in time.
Earlier we studied that entropy is a measure of Disorder. The disorder of the Universe tends to the maximum, thus marking the death of the Universe. Hence Mr Hawking starts from zero disorder and measures the age of the Universe from the amount of disorder presently existing, somewhat akin to Carbon dating.
The postulate that Entropy in the reverse direction reduces time cannot be empirically proved. The disorder, one day the disorder may be totally nullified by some Natural Force and order may be restored. Hence measuring Time using Entropy is basically not possible unlike measuring Age of Earth using Carbon dating. Also Mr Hawking brings the concept of Negative Entropy, a measure of order for reversal of Time. For this, he is taking the example of a Jigsaw game (page 154)
He asserts that the initial position of Jigsaw pieces which constitute a whole image is in order and marks time as zero. Then its position becomes disordered marking a progress in time. When they are re-assembled, the Time reverses in the negative direction and becomes zero when perfect order is regained. The same is the case with a broken cup. During the forward journey it enters into total disorder and in the reverse direction, it brings back order.
For the sake of simplicity let me give the following flow chart of Time Arrow in both directions as envisaged by Stephen Hawking:
I. Movement of Universe in the forward Direction:
1.Zero Time represents Perfect order,
2. progress in Time means, disorder increases. (More Entropy)
3. End of Time means Maximum disorder OR Maximum Entropy (Singularity)
II.On the reverse side:
1.End of Time means.Maximum disorder
2.Regression in Time: Disorder decreases (order or negative Entropy increases)
3.Beginning of Time means Perfect order (Zero Entropy)
This is the vivid description of Time in terms of Entropy given by Stephen Hawking in his book 'A brief History of Time".
4. Discussions on Entropy and Negative Entropy:
Detailed discussions on this topic were already done by the author and a reference is invited to the article by the undersigned author in 'what is Life?'- No 6488527 dated 2nd Sept, 2011 in which the concepts of Entropy and negative Entropy were discussed while reviewing the book of Erwin Schrodinger.
Both are only two forms of Energy. We cannot measure energy by reversing the order of Entropy. This is like saying, if the minute hand travels in the reverse side, Time also will travel in the opposite direction. The Energy is manifested in different forms. The total energy is always a constant which implies that there is no absolute Time as far as the whole Universal Energy is concerned. Time can be used to measure changes in Energy and not the reverse i.e. energy to measure time.
This answers also the question no 2 raised in the book. There is no question of Time running in the reverse direction because what we construe as Time, is only various forms of Energy, whether forward or backward and so there is no negative Time. For example, if I travel from India to London for 8 Hours, the travel from London to India is also 8 Hours and not -8 hours. No doubt, the distance is in the opposite direction i.e. negative. This will make it clear that any position of Energy will be measured by Time only in one direction and reversal is not possible.
This is the great secret of Time and Energy. Various forms of Universal energy are formed in such a way that Energy rules including Entropy, circumvent other rules to keep Time unchanged as for as direction is concerned.
This does not require any experimental proof. A deep insight will make this fact clear to those who think without bias.
5: Question 3: Is the Universe infinite or does it have boundaries?
Before analyzing the significance of this theory let us see the other aspect of his book i.e.formation of the Universe.
Stephen Hawking has put the total onus of formation and movement of the Universe on BIG BANG. His theory is that the Universe started from the big bang, its movement is because of its effect, TIME also started from that point. Hence Big bang is the starting point of both space and time. Let us see how CERN experiment totally contradicts it.
Note: Complete details and finer aspects of the experiment are not within the scope of this article. We shall see only the aspects relevant to the topic under consideration.
Let us start our study from Higgs Boson which the CERN experiment claims to have discovered.
6. What is Higgs Boson?
Higg's Boson is a spin-zero particle with a non zero mass predicted by Peter Higgs (born 1929) to exist in certain electro weak forces which requires large accelerators (like W and Z Bosons) That is what precisely the scientists appear to have achieved on 3rd July of this year as a new particle at the LARGE HADRON COLLIDER (LHC) In 1960, Higgs hypothesised the existence of an energy field and an associated particle which enabled the particles to acquire mass without destroying the unification of forces. The latest data revealing the existence of a 125 GeV mass particle marks a high-point in precision experimental high-energy Physics. Scientists from CERN have announced that they have discovered the God particle- the key particle in the formation of the Universe. We shall see the following two theories regarding this aspect.
a. Prediction by Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974)
The Indian born Scientist Satyendra Nath Bose (in whose name the nomenclature BOSON came into being- Boson means particles obeying Bose-Einstein Statistics) predicted the existence of the fundamental particle and the entire Universe is formed by only these particles and their derivatives.
b.Tao of Physics and Boson Experiment:
Fritjof Capra (born 1939) had the realization that Oceanic waves, Radiations from the Sun and Thought waves are true reflections of atomic vibrations which can be named as Atomic Dances. Indian Saints used to visualize 'Creation' as an eternal process without either beginning or end and Scientists also visualise the Universe as an eternal process.
There is no stoppage for birth and death of both material particles and Life. Hence the dance of atoms never stops. Billions of atoms are formed and then annihilated every second which is known as 'Cosmic Dance'.
The source of this activity is the Higg's Boson, which the CERN experiments have confirmed now.
7. How do CERN experiments negate the theories of Stephen Hawking?
Scientists like Einstein have not approved big bang as the starting point of the Universe. Einstein has proposed a 'steady state model' wherein he supposed the existence of the Universe forever, resembling to Hindu Philosophy and also Holistic Philosophy. Ernst J. Opik's model is an improved version of this Einstein's model which states that Universe alternatively expands and shrinks. There is no unanimous view among scientists that Big Bang is the starting point of the Universe.
The enormous energy spent in creating or separating one Higgs Boson throws light on the tremendous energy required to make a big bang. Hence, it may be concluded that huge energy was there before big bang, during big bang and continues even today. Hence, as written in the above paragraphs, various forms of the Universe are only manifestation of the whole energy in various forms.
Regarding the boundaries of the Universe, it was clarified in earlier articles by this author, that OBJECTS create their own space and there is no separate entity known as SPACE and hence there is no question of boundary. Readers are referred to the book on 'The Expanding Universe' By J.B.S Haldane in this regard.
Hence, the conclusion of the author through this article is that:
1. Time is measurement of various changes in Energy levels. It has no directions.
2. Space is only created by objects and there is no closed boundaries for space.
This writer is not a great Scientist. But it is his humble suggestion that Scientists may come out of the myth of 'Singular' Big Bang and visualize various changes including various singularities in the Whole energy which always remains intact.
Hence it is concluded that the answers given for the three questions in Stephen Hacking's book "A brief History of Time' is insufficient in the light of findings of CERN experiment. The book may be studied along with Fritjof Capra's 'Tao of Physics'. E.Schrodinger's 'What is Life and other articles', Ernst J.Opik's ' The oscillating Universe' and Albert Einstein's 'Steady State model' to have complete answers for the questions raised by Mr Hawking and to have complete understanding of results of CERN experiment.
Let us have an open mind to study the grand design of the Universe and not close it with pre-conceived ideas.
I wish the readers all the best.
Dr B.Sathyanarayanan (65) is an experienced administrator, teacher and writer. He is M.Sc(Physics) from Annamalai University. He studied Psychology and Philosophy as two additional subjects for graduation. He worked as a PHYSICS LECTURER for 2 years (1969-1971). Later, he had to take up a bank job and continued Physics and Philosophy research privately. At the age of 50, he got voluntary retirement from banking service to devote more time for social,educational and research activities. In 2005, he took up Physics teaching once again and is teaching for the past 8 years as a regular professor of Physics.
He continued his interest in Psychology and got his PhD in Psychological counselling in 2000 and is counselling on HIV/AIDS matters. He conducted several intervention programmes. He is a well known writer in English in fiction and article writing. His writing is recognised internationally by listing in the directory of World Philosophers, Bowling Green State University, U.S.A.
All along his life so far, he remained a scientific philosopher in thought and deeds. He considers Albert Einstein as his role model in Science and J.Krishnamurti, in Philosophy. His first book 'The Simple Truth", a comparative study of Religion and Science, was published in 1987. He is publishing the annual magazine 'Philosophy of Science' (since re-started). He founded Holistic Philosophy Society for the study of Physics and Philosophy. His latest book 'Glimpses of Holistic Philosophy' has been widely acclaimed. He conducts regular meetings on various topics on Physics and Philosophy in Chennai. He recently conducted a "Two days seminar on Religion, Science and Social Services" in Chennai, India which was attended by senior Professors of Physics and Philosophy. As an experienced author, he is glad to present the above article for the kind attention of readers

Inspiring Science and Engineering: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

By Keith A Griffiths

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest particle accelerator.
It lies up to 175 metres deep in parts below the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva in Switzerland and it's tunnel has a circumference of 27 kilometres.
This huge piece of engineering was collaborated on by over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries.
It was build with the aim of exploring many physics theories in the area of physics.
The Higgs Bozon is known by many as the God Particle and is said to contain enough energy to propel us into a new age. The discovery of such a particle could in fact create a new pathway in relation to how we power our day to day luxuries, such as our homes, cars, motorbikes, ovens, gadgets, swimming pools, 'if you're lucky enough to have one', I could go on here.
So how close are we to discovering this exiting particle? Well in fact after smashing electrons into themselves at very high speeds there have been moments where we came close, but at his moment not close enough.
What could happen if anything went wrong, well there is a slim chance a black hole will appear, it's nice to know people asked my opinion before building this...
But what does it actually do?
The Large Hadron Collider is a particle accelerator - a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well defined beams.
The charged particles are accelerated and energised to very high speeds and then made to collide with other particles. The purpose of this collision is to allow scientists to view the byproducts created from the collision, these byproducts give us great insight into the sub-atomic world and the laws and behaviours of these sub-atomic particles.
The LHC is expected to answer many of the most fundamental questions in physics and give us greater insight into the workings of nature.
These questions cover such things as the interrelation between quantum mechanics and general relativity, the deep structure of space and time and the nature of dark matter. This amazing piece of science and engineering has already had a huge impact upon the science world with breakthroughs such as locating the Higgs Bozon, who knows what else will be discovered in this ground breaking area of science.
The Higgs Bozon is known as the god particle as it's said to contain the energy used at the start of the big bang, by finding this particle it will help scientists to create new forms of renewable clean energy as well as other possibilities such as space travel

Pioneer 10's Quirky Path Through Space Poses Compelling Mystery For Physicists

By Frank T Kryza

On March 2, 1972, a balmy Thursday on Florida's humid Cape Canaveral peninsula, a NASA Atlas-Centaur rocket took off with a 570-lb payload called Pioneer 10. Pioneer was a space probe designed to cross the asteroid belt and perform a "fly-by" of Jupiter and the outer gas giants to study them. For the next ten years, Pioneer sent back astonishing reports from the far reaches of the solar system, carrying out its mission with great success.
Then, instead of falling silent as it had been expected to do, Pioneer kept sending signals back to Earth. Its tiny nuclear generator kept cranking out the 70 watts of power needed to maintain a radio link with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and this continued for decades longer than anyone believed possible. Communication kept up on a daily basis until January 23, 2003, more than thirty years after the mission began. By then, the probe was twice the distance from the sun as Neptune and Pluto are, and Pioneer had become the first object made by the hands of man ever to leave the grip of the sun's gravity forever.
The Pioneer story would have been a significant chapter in the history of science had it ended there, but it did not. Experimental physics is full of examples of scientific projects designed to study one phenomenon yet revealing unexpected truths about something else entirely, and the really interesting piece of the Pioneer 10 story is one of these. Though it had carried out its robotic exploration of Jupiter and Saturn with skill and perseverance far beyond the call of duty (if one can apply such language to a robot), by the time it was passing the outer limits of the planetary system, it was clear to NASA that it was hundreds of thousands of miles from where computer tracking programs said it should be. How was that possible?
The way objects move in space, whether they are planets the size of Jupiter or tiny craft like Pioneer, is governed by well-known laws of physics that give precise answers about location that can be measured in centimeters, even on the scale of the solar system. For Pioneer to be hundreds of thousands of miles off course was simply not possible. No matter how it was tackled, the problem just wouldn't go away, and it soon became clear that something truly weird was going on. NASA scientists gave this quirk of Pioneer a name; they called it "The Anomaly."
"The Pioneer Detectives: Did a distant spacecraft prove Einstein and Newton wrong?" a newly issued "Kindle Single" by Konstantin Kakaes, a gifted journalist and writer who studied physics as an undergraduate at Harvard, explores the tantalizing clues scientists uncovered in seeking to explain the Pioneer course deviation. The deeper they dug, the less they seemed to understand. Immersed in the daily tracking logs of the 30-year-old space probe, startling and perhaps revolutionary questions began to emerge: Was the spacecraft's errant course proof of some new and unknown wrinkle in the fundamental laws of physics?
A slightly off-course spaceship may seem an unlikely subject for deep speculations about the fundamental nature of the universe, but obvious solutions to Pioneer's flight deviation were not forthcoming. Yet this was a matter of "black letter" physics, and errors of this kind and of this magnitude just cannot occur.
What could be the cause of "The Anomaly"? The NASA sleuths could not seem to agree, though the list of possible culprits was long and scary: Dark matter? Tensor-vector-scalar gravity? Collisions with gravitons? A fundamental error in Einstein's equations?
The only thing clear about the questions posed by Pioneer and "The Anomaly" was that potentially groundbreaking discoveries were in the offing for those brave enough and smart enough to tackle them successfully. This is territory young scientists call "new physics" -- an unmapped land where new Nobel Prizes are sometimes also found.
Writing in clear, sharp prose free of technical language, science writer and former Mexico City bureau chief for "The Economist" Konstantin Kakaes gives us a spine-tingling scientific detective story, tracking the mental processes and the spadework of those committed to untangling this high-stakes science enigma. Kakaes draws on extensive interviews and archival research, following the story from "The Anomaly's" initial discovery through decades of tireless investigation, to its ultimate conclusion. "The Pioneer Detectives" is a riveting and definitive account, not just of the Pioneer Anomaly but also of how scientific knowledge gets made and unmade, with scientists sometimes putting their reputations and their livelihoods on the line in pursuit of cosmic truths.

In Microcosm Of Sand, Geologist-Writer Evokes The Entire Universe

By Frank T Kryza

The word "sand," much like the words "rock" and "dirt," is a word one acquires very early in childhood. Sand, rock, and dirt are ubiquitous materials, the building blocks of our planet. We are confronted with them early in life and life requires of us that we know what they are.
Perhaps the most interesting of the three to the young is sand because it is both hard and yet it can flow like water, it is hard and soft, static yet mobile. Sand, the encyclopedias tell is a "naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles." Even those who have not studied sand know that it comes in a variety of colors and in startling degrees of granularity, ranging from the almost talcum powder fineness of the orange sand of the Sahara to the much more gritty varieties derived from crushed coral which are so prevalent on the world's beaches.
And now at last there comes a book devoted exclusively to sand, an extraordinary and delightful exploration of this strange corner of the mineral world. It is Sand: The Never-Ending Story by the British geologist Michael Welland, a masterful evocation of a much neglected and yet remarkable and omnipresent basic substance of our world.
From individual grains observed in minute structural detail under the microscope to the vast desert dunes which form like ocean waves on stretches of the Sahara Desert that can be seen from space, from the bottom of the world's oceans to the landscapes of our neighbor Mars, from billions of years in the past to a future that stretches to infinity -- Sand: The Never-Ending Story is an astonishing narrative that encompasses the whole universe in which we live, because practically everywhere in that universe is this stuff, this sand, one of nature's most humble and yet most powerful and most omnipresent materials.
While this is a book by a professional scientist with a Ph.D. from Cambridge, the story is told with a dramatic sense of language and narrative more reminiscent of fiction and film. Welland is a gifted writer. Sand examines the science of sand, including the physics of granular materials generally, and yet the focus is always on the human context of sand, sand as a material we use every day. That, in the end, is what gives sand meaning in our human world. Interwoven with tales of scientists, sculptors, navigators, the story of sand is at the same time a story of environmental building and a tale of environment collapse, an adventure that stretches back to the beginnings of our planet as a place of solid materials yet a tale that encompasses also the mundane realities of a child's sandbox in today's back yard. That is because sand is all around us. Sand is a component of almost everything -- it has made possible our computers, buildings, and plate glass for windows, toothpaste, cosmetics, and paper, and it has played dramatic roles in human history, commerce, and imagination. It is a component of concrete, and it is an artifact of weathering. Given enough time, the Rocky Mountains will turn to sand; indeed, the Alleghenies already have. Welland shows us that we can find the world in a grain of sand.
Though he is certainly first and foremost a professional scientist, no one is more fun to listen to as a writer of narrative nonfiction than Michael Welland. He is a born raconteur who might easily have become a writer of pulp fiction (or the owner of a British pub!) had he not chosen the higher calling of studying rocks. His narrative flows with the ease and grace of the best creative nonfiction, adapting many of the techniques of telling stories more typically associated with novels.
His fellow scientists have recognized the power of this book. Sand: The Never-Ending Story won the prestigious John Burroughs Medal in 2010 for the finest book that year about natural history (an honor Welland shares with Rachel Carson, Joseph Wood Krutch, John McPhee, and other luminaries of natural history going back to 1926).
Michael Welland has written an extraordinary book, perhaps even a timeless book that non-scientists can enjoy as much as professional geologists. Welland, who spent many years practicing geology in the United States, now lives in London with his wife and family where he is managing director of Orogen, a geological consulting company he founded, and a Fellow of the Geological Society.