The Lightness of Being

Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces


By Frank Wilczek

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A Nobel-prize winning physicist takes on the essential question: what are we made of?

Our understanding of nature’s deepest reality has changed radically, but almost without our noticing, over the past twenty-five years. Transcending the clash of older ideas about matter and space, acclaimed physicist Frank Wilczek explains a remarkable new discovery: matter is built from almost weightless units, and pure energy is the ultimate source of mass. He calls it “The Lightness of Being.” Space is no mere container, empty and passive. It is a dynamic Grid-a modern ether- and its spontaneous activity creates and destroys particles. This new understanding of mass explains the puzzling feebleness of gravity, and a gorgeous unification of all the forces comes sharply into focus.The Lightness of Being is the first book to explore the implications of these revolutionary ideas about mass, energy, and the nature of “empty space.” In it, Wilczek masterfully presents new perspectives on our incredible universe and envisions a new golden age of fundamental physics.
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  • "Frank Wilczek is one of the most brilliant practitioners of particle physics...He writes as he thinks, with a lightness of touch that can come only to one who is absolute master of his subject."
    Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books
  • "A thrilling read... a glimpse of physics at its quirkiest and most illuminating."
    The Economist
  • "Bracing....We could scarcely wish for a more knowledgeable guide to subatomic physics than Wilczek....The book is an object lesson in how an original thinker can take familiar material and impress on it originality of interpretation that makes it come alive, even for experts who have been studying it for years."
    Times Higher Education Supplement
  • "Read Wilczek's share some of the excitement and enlightenment that he and fellow particle physicists experience as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) goes into operation in Switzerland."
    Natural History
  • ""The Lightness of Being" is an apt description of Wilczek's writing style, which manages to be at once profound and light, filled with humour, wordplay and original explanations of difficult concepts."
    New Scientist
  • ""The Lightness of Being" does a superb job of introducing the our current understanding of the nature of matter and the forces that govern the universe.... [A] wonderful program guide to what we can expect from the LHC in the coming years. Stay tuned."
    American Scientist
  • "With a command of both concept and language that few can rival, [Wilczek] weaves witty commentary into eloquent explanations. Heavy on physics but light on math, this book offers an accessible though sophisticated look at the central ideas of modern physics."
  • "Frank Wilczek, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, unwraps exciting new ideas.... He contends, with great wit and style, that we are tantalizingly close to unifying the fundamental forces of nature."
    Scientific American
  • "Wilczek can write with wit, grace, and an uncanny facility for using lightweight language to express heavy-duty ideas."
    Physics Today
  • "For a safari-like adventure into the world of physics, follow Wilczek's lead. Quirky but knowledgeable, he explores the essence of the matter that makes up the universe -- combining the enthusiasm of someone like Jeff Corwin with the thoughtfulness of a David Attenborough."
    Science News
  • "Wilczek successfully documents the great discoveries, ideas, and mysteries of our universe.... [T]he author uses nontechnical language that is devoid of mathematics and theoretical proofs and that is rich in personal reflection and historical context."
    Library Journal
  • "Don't worry, the chapters are short, fun and larded with historical points that offer readers the payoff of understanding all the excitement in the scientific world over Europe's Large Hadron Collider, just getting warmed up in its operations."
    USA Today
  • "Wilczek delivers an approachable verbal picture of what quarks and gluons are doing inside a proton that gives rise to mass and, hence, gravity. Casting the light-speed lives of quarks against 'the Grid, ' Wilczek's term for the vacuum that theoretically seethes with quantum activity, Wilczek exudes a contagious excitement for discovery. A near-obligatory acquisition for circulating physics collections."
  • "Wilczek possesses a compelling writing style.... The beauty of the intellectual leaps, the grandness of the discovery, are palpable. Making the reader feel engaged and conceptually informed is no small feat for a book on advanced science."
    St. Petersburg Times
  • "Vintage Wilczek--fun, simple and right."
    Robert Laughlin,Nobel Laureate, Stanford University
  • ""The Lightness of Being" takes the reader on a mind-stretching journey, providing a revolutionary new vision of the universe. Frank Wilczek is an extraordinarily accomplished and creative scientist who has the rare ability to communicate scientific ideas and insights with exceptional clarity--but also with a delightful playfulness."
    Jerome I. Friedman,Nobel Laureate, MIT
  • "This book is deep, simple and incredibly well-written. Starting from the nature of mass, Professor Wilczek leads the reader to an understanding of the most profound ideas and accomplishments in physics today."
    T.D. Lee, NobelLaureate in Physics, Columbia University
  • "Want to know what it's all about? Here's a book that candidly tells you what 'it' is. And just about everything you thought about 'it' is wrong. Accessible, charming and cheeky, "The Lightness of Being" reveals a universe where matter is the hum of strange music, mass doesn't weigh, and empty space is a multilayered, multicolored superconductor."
    K.C. Cole, author of Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos
  • ""The Lightness of Being" is a delightful celebration of the wonders of physics, told by one who has helped define the current frontiers. Wilczek's lightness of touch and wry humour make this book a joy to read."
    Frank Close, authorof The Void
  • ""The Lightness of Being" is a lively, playful, and inventive tour de force, written by a lively, playful, and inventive key mover in the field. Few creative popular expositors of physics are also brilliant physicists. It is rarer still to find a creative expositor of physics who is not only brilliant but has personally helped change the way we think about nature."
    Lawrence Krauss,author of Hiding in the Mirror
  • "Frank Wilczek takes readers on an enjoyable and enlightening voyage that starts with the deep insightsthat won him a Nobel Prize, and moves on to the more speculative realms that physicists are now investigating. This is a colorful and masterful treatment of recent developments in fundamental physics."
    Peter Woit, author ofNot Even Wrong

On Sale
Mar 9, 2010
Page Count
292 pages
Basic Books

Frank Wilczek

About the Author

Frank Wilczek is the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004. His 1989 book, Longing for the Harmonies, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Wilczek’s work has been anthologized in Best American Science Writing and The Norton Anthology of Light Verse. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author