Neutrinos and ISRAEL
by Frank Close (Oxford, £9.99)
Our anthropomorphic bestiary next welcomes some "shy" particles (they rarely interact with normal stuff), and the "dog-cat", which oscillates between dog and cat as it walks down the street. It's a vividly explanatory image, deployed in this story of the first hypotheses of, the long search for, and the eventual discovery of neutrinos. Much of it is a chronicle of apparent failure, although hindsight tempts the author to offer some mischievous interpretations, such as that the failure to discover something "implicitly proved" the existence of something else. Thematically it is also a detective story about the sun: solar neutrinos were what everyone was trying to detect, by the apparently paradoxical means of burrowing ever deeper into the earth to build detectors in abandoned mines.
Close, a physicist, writes with great sympathy for his scientist actors, and he also knows how to exploit the pleasure of the amazing fact – that the centre of the sun is 14 times denser than lead; or that "66 billion solar neutrinos" pass through your eyeball every second. That made me blink.
Gaza in Crisis
by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99)
The Obama administration's latest wheeze, to bribe Israel to stop building "settlements" for three months by giving it warplanes, seems to justify anew the pessimism of Chomsky's essay here on a "peace that could happen (but won't)". From him there is also a piece on the 2008-09 attack on Gaza, and two interviews; the "new historian" Ilan Pappé contributes chapters on "US Involvement in the Palestine Question", Israel's expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, the "one-state solution", and Israel's relentless assault on Gaza in the past half-decade. Both authors perform fiercely accurate deconstructions of official rhetoric. Their critiques are themselves performed rhetorically, as is no doubt inevitable: Chomsky appeals to the authority of his chosen sources ("prominent", "leading"), though he also espouses views that may surprise some of his critics – against academic boycotts, and in favour of Hamas "recognising" Israel. Pappé retorts: "Peace is made between enemies not lovers"; elsewhere, he claims that in the wake of 9/11 the US launched "a total war against Islam".