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A Hole in Texas
By Herman Wouk

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A Hole in Texas

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A Hole in Texas
By Herman Wouk
Little, Brown and Company: Large Print, (2004)
ISBN: 0-316-00072-8
Genre: Fiction

Reviewed by Herbert White - May 7, 2004

Carpenter is a man that has been forced out of his nice, quiet, satisfying life. He is currently working on a space telescope at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a department within the greater rubric of NASA, he has a loving wife, a grown son, and a new baby daughter. His well-ordered life is thrown into chaos when the Chinese announce that they have discovered the Higgs boson. Before he knows what has hit, he finds himself acting as an adviser to a congresswoman, as the scientific consultant on Hollywood thriller based upon the Higgs boson, the object of a CIA investigation, and he's on the outs with his wife. The impetuousity of this drastic change of events is Quentin Rossiter, a reporter with the Washington Post, who just happens to have a knack for getting to the heart of a story - and in this case Carpenter appears to be at the center of it all.

Herman Wouk is perhaps best known for his complex sagas, such as Winds of War, and his dramatic novels such as Marjorie Morningstar. In A Hole in Texas, Wouk shows us another side of his literary genius. A Hole in Texas takes the reader on a leisurely journey through the world of particle physics and international intrigue. The story's focus is upon Guy Carpenter, a physicist who once worked on the now-defunct Superconducting Super Collider project. The plug was pulled on this project by Congress, as a money saving measure, with as much pre-thought and without appreciation of the long-term scientific and economical gains that might have developed had the project been allowed to continue. It is such short sightedness that is currently threatening the Hubble Telescope. One of the goals of the project was to find the Higgs Field Particle, a subatomic particle known as a Higgs boson.

After leaving Texas, where the Super Collider resided, buried under the red Texas dirt, Carpenter went to work with the JPL. When the Chinese claim to have found the Higgs boson, Carpenter becomes a much sought after fount of information, partly due to his efforts to find the Higgs boson for the Americans, but also because of his ongoing relationship with Wen Mei Li (Wendy), the Chinese scientist credited with the find.

Never heard of the Higgs boson or the Super Collider project. Never fear, through Carpenter, Wouk gives the reader a painless lesson on basic physics and the Super Collider; including why it was built, what scientist hoped to learn from it, and why congress squashed the project. He explores the machinations of government appropriation measures, and the potential scientific, military, and economic benefits that may have emerged from the Super Collider project. He also paints a satirical picture of the role that the media plays, both in how monies are allocated to various scientific endeavors, and how the media can turn a non-event into a major controversy.

For Carpenter, the media, Congress, and the public in general, the implications associated with the Chinese discovery of the Higgs boson, if it did occur, are enormous. Could the Chines make a Boson Bomb? What other uses might this discovery be put to, especially any military uses? What would have happened if the US had discovered the Higgs boson first? Should the Super Collider project be resurrected? And if so, where would the money come from for the project? These questions, and many others, serve as mere color to a story that is, at its essences, about a man at the cross-roads of his life, torn between an old love, a current one, and a new one. Can he decide which direction he wants his life to take, and more important, will he be given the opportunity to decide this for himself?

Although a work of fiction, this book is based in scientific fact. The Superconducting Super Collider was built, and now lies rotting, in Texas and the search for the Higgs boson is ongoing - but as of yet has not been discovered. Humorous, sweet, and satirical at times, A Hole in Texas is a relaxing and entrancing book that will have you looking at particle physics in a whole new light!


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