"This unusual work of fiction consists of a series of stories within stories, which weave in the great, illuminating discoveries of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Abdus Salam, Peter Higgs and more. The book’s title derives from an epigraph by another physicist Richard Feynman: “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” ... Husain explores, in lucid and accessible prose, the findings which have contributed to our understanding of this fabric and tapestry across the centuries.
It's a work that, despite its seemingly dense subject, is accessible and defies gravity."
- MUNEEZA SHAMSIE, IN NEWSWEEK PAKISTAN
"[The] author demonstrates her own solid understanding of physics as she translates it for non-scientists, and she makes clever use of analogy to illustrate scientific concepts. Readers will easily pick up on the parallels between Leo and Sara’s relationship and the search for an elusive theoretical particle, in lines such as, “In case she quantum-tunnels out of my life, disappearing as unexpectedly as she materialized, I want to be able to find her again.”
A fictional approach to physics that captures both the substance of the theory and the passion of its practitioners."
- KIRKUS REVIEWS: Featured Review
"The science is rigorous and the phenomena described are complicated, but Husain's style is accessible and her writing gives the reader some understanding of the frustrations and emotional rewards of cutting edge science"
"There is plenty of science content in this book, but its real strength is the way in which Husain offers insights into how breakthroughs take place. Writing in an expressive, sometimes poetic style, she introduces us to the great figures of physics as human beings. As Husain weaves her stories within the personal, historic, and cultural setting unique to each scientist, the reader learns about their distinct problem solving methods as well as their passions, failures, and eventual successes."
"Part fiction, part overview of "Aha!" moments in the forward march of physics, Only The Longest Threads takes readers dramatically through scientific fields such as quantum field theory, electromagnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory. Each idea or concept is explored in an inventive chapter, each told from a different first-person narrator; the faux emails, letters and diary entries take place from 1728 to the present day. It all feels like a series of interlinked short stories. If Tasneem Zehra Husain, a writer, educator and Pakistan's first female string theorist, had been my science teacher back in high school, maybe I would have taken physics after all, instead of that creative writing elective."
"Husain is a theoretical physicist who has a love affair with science. She asks, “What happens when our understanding of the universe is challenged? In those grand and terrifying moments, what do scientists think, and how do they feel?” Husain has written a novel that takes you back in time to explore some of the most important scientific discoveries and theories that have shaped our understanding of the world and universe, from quantum mechanics to string theory. Her fictional characters are science enthusiasts, who witness and illuminate these new theories."
"Please, Ms Physicist, tell me a story, one that uses my language and down-to-earth images to bring your cosmic universe a few light-years closer to me. Lo and behold, Tasneem Zehra Husain conjures the fly-on-the-wall experience of a witness to momentous breakthroughs in physics from Newton's classical mechanics to the latest in string theory, to the Higgs Boson. She frames the big questions in casual conversation; we mortals see how the great physicists use their brains."
“A delightful meditation on the development of modern physics, culminating in the discovery of the Higgs. Husain follows the thread of its creation through a dialog between a journalist and young theory student, and as seen through the eyes of witnesses.”
- JOHN HUTH. DONNER PROFESSOR OF SCIENCE, HARVARD UNIVERSITY. AUTHOR OF THE LOST ART OF FINDING OUR WAY.
“Science is done by real human beings, with human concerns. Only The Longest Threads tells a story that conveys the human side of science in a way that is as moving as it is accurate."
- SEAN CARROLL. THEORETICAL PHYSICIST AT CALTECH. AUTHOR OF THE PARTICLE AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE.
"Tasneem Zehra Husain writes lyrically, poetically about life, love, and physics. I highly recommend this wonderful book for anyone interested in what physics, and indeed all of science, is about. She masterfully describes the most momentous moments in physics history with verve and talent.”
- AMIR D. ACZEL. BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF PRESENT AT THE CREATION.
"How do theoretical physicists think? Tasneem Zehra Husain knows. She knows their purpose, feels their passions, articulates their frustrations, shares their triumphs. Through the device of fiction Only the Longest Threads communicates the history of physical thought, its roots in inquisitiveness and essential disinterest in outcome, with greater clarity than any popular science text.”
- MICHAEL DUFF FRS. ABDUS SALAM PROFESSOR OF THEORETICAL PHYSICS. IMPERIAL COLLEGE, LONDON.
Only The Longest Threads describes the process of scientific discovery through the human elements: the bold conjectures, the wrong turns in the road, the competitiveness among scientists, the strength of their community, all seen from the point of view of the writers of letters and journals who make up the narrative. The clear, flawless prose is laced with a gentle wit when human behaviour is described the terms of physics: a welcome, light-handed nerdiness. Everyone who has studied physics but is unable to see the forest for the trees---that means most of us---will relish this lovely little volume when it brings into perspective, through its accessible yet substantive treatment of the grand unifications, a magnificent edifice created by the human mind.
- ASAD ABIDI. DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES.
"Well-written and cleverly constructed, this book takes us on a journey through the history of physics as a series of separate fictional adventures with ideas, loosely linked by another fiction, the storytellers' emails to each other. Some books are praised because "I couldn't put it down", but this one merits a deeper reading, one that stops, muses on, and savors each story before going on to the next. Each one captures not only the emergence of a significant idea in physics, but something of the characters, culture and times around that development. So take your time, pause to ponder, but persevere, you will be well rewarded!"
- HELEN QUINN. PROFESSOR EMERITUS SLAC NATIONAL ACCELERATOR LABORATORY. SCIENCE EDUCATOR. CO-AUTHOR OF THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING ANTI-MATTER.
“Husain takes you by the hand and walks you through half a dozen of the most important discoveries in physics over the past three centuries, in each case as seen through the eyes of a fictional protagonist living through the discovery. Along the way she gives you an almost personal sense of how science feels as it is happening, along with distilled insights into the essence of the discoveries themselves. These vignettes are wrapped in a story that is in itself a page-turner. I can’t wait for the sequel.”
—KRISHNA RAJAGOPAL. PROFESSOR AND ASSOCIATE HEAD FOR EDUCATION, MIT
"This book reveals a love affair; a love affair with physics. Only the Longest Threads is not about formulas and mathematics, but instead the people who have changed the way we comprehend the universe. We meet these icons, some ancient and some brand new, in a very personal way, and see that the driving force behind discoveries is very often a passionate relationship with the problems you try to solve”
- OLAV AMELIN. DIRECTOR, NOBEL MUSEUM.
With a self-referential structure reminiscent of Calvino’s novels, and a premise - that fiction can bring physics to life - similar to McCormmach’s Night thoughts of a classical physicist, Tasneem Zehra Husain takes us on a journey through epic discoveries as they might have been seen at the time by amateur enthusiasts. With the story framed by the discovery of the Higgs’ boson at CERN, and carried forward through e-mails between an aspiring young woman and a struggling science journalist, the 'long threads' of the 'tapestry' woven by Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, are examined in the course of elegantly composed letters between imagined witnesses to physics history, until the narrative is taken out of their hands for a buildup to the Higgs boson discovery, and a nod to String Theory.
- PAUL TOWNSEND, FRS. PROFESSOR OF THEORETICAL PHYSICS, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY.
"This highly original book puts a fresh perspective on humanity's inevitable obsession with understanding the laws of Nature. On an artfully constructed journey through space and time, Tasneem Zehra Husain gives us a tantalizing taste of how physicists struggle to find "true nuggets of gold, and the only immortal elixir.”
- FREDDY CACHAZO. PERIMETER INSTITUTE OF THEORETICAL PHYSICS.
"Tasneem Zehra Husain skillfully weaves a poetic tapestry from tight threads of science and richly imagined strands of time. A weft of physics and warp of love makes a delightfully gripping read. Her smooth flowing prose conducts us by some unfamiliar force from falling apples to colliding protons where the Higgs boson looms."
- JOSEPH MAZUR. AUTHOR OF ENLIGHTENING SYMBOLS
“It is very rare to come across a popular book that not only gives an excellent rendition of the science, but also has high literary qualities. Tasneem Zehra Husain has managed to combine an outstanding description of several areas in physics while painting historical and geographical mini sketches, using voices from the times and places where key developments took place. Theoretical physicists will nod in recognition when reading about CERN, the Niels Bohr Institute, Trieste, Stockholm, Harvard and Cambridge University. I have read many popular books describing various stages in the attempts to unify fundamental physics, but none as convincing as this one.”
- ULF LINDSTROM. PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS, UPPSALA UNIVERSITY.
"Tasneem Zehra's observant narrators are witnesses to the intellectual revolutions of Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Bohr, and others, the drama building to the mysteries of the present day. She uses her deep knowledge of physics to create a new genre: true science fiction, imagined vignettes of physics in all its humanity, woven together as a story within a story."
-MARK PETERSON. PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS & MATHEMATICS, MOUNT HOLYOKE COLLEGE. AUTHOR OF GALILEO'S MUSE.
"Only the Longest Threads is a page-turner that portrays the excitement of discovery in physics from Isaac Newton to string theory. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to feel the thrill of the succession of ideas that have led us to the current highly successful, but incomplete, understanding of our universe.”
- RICHARD DOWER. SCIENCE CHAIRMAN, ROXBURY LATIN SCHOOL.
"Tasneem Zehra Husain’s writing is both enlightening and entertaining as it captivates the challenge and excitement of working at the forefront of paradigm-shifting discoveries. Book-ended by the history-making discovery of the Higgs field, this tale offers a sparkling account of our understanding of fundamental physics. Through many voices rich with evocative metaphors, the threads woven through time and place that make-up our current understanding of reality are revealed."
- ELIZABETH MCCORMACK. PHYSICS DEPARTMENT CHAIR, BRYN MAWR COLLEGE.