Yesterday I read with interest and curiosity some pages of a book on the search and discovery of the Higgs boson, which was published last March by Rizzoli (in Italian only, at least for the time being). The book, authored by physics professor and ex CMS spokesperson Guido Tonelli, is titled "La nascita imperfetta delle cose" ("The imperfect birth of things"). 
The title is quite unrevealing of the contents, and Rizzoli did well in putting a band around the book, to explicitate its topic. Indeed, the graphics on the cover are HEP-inspired, yet quite abstract; one could well fail to guess it's a book about a physics discovery even if the book were in the same shelf with books by Butterworth, Carroll, Randall, Close, Greene, and the other usual suspects. But even if you open the book you can only find occasional clues in chapter titles - there are not just no formulas in the text: the pages do not contain a single diagram or image. I think this is an intentional choice, meant as an understatement: the book is not meant to teach physics, but rather wants to tell a story.

The story begins in medias res, with Tonelli rushing to get a frac he's commissioned to attend the Nobel prize giving ceremony in Stockholm. As the spokesperson of one of the experiments involved in the discovery of the Higgs boson, which triggered the 2013 prize to Higgs and Englert, he has been in fact invited to attend. The book jumps back and forth in time to explain various important moments in the history of the LHC construction, startup, data taking, and of the Higgs boson discovery; with a few more personal recollections which do enrich the narrative with pathos and emotions.

I found the book well written and interesting, as it gives a very personal perspective of the Higgs search and discovery from one of the physicists who followed the works in first person almost from their very beginning. I must say I did not like much the peculiar disregard that the author shows for consecutio temporum - I am picky, I know - but I'll accept that it is a personal choice and if you're not as much of a purist as I am (when others write) you will not be disturbed by the jumping back and forth from present to simple past to future in the same paragraph.

I heard colleagues who are critical of the choice of the author of narrating things in first person throughout the text. They are maybe jealous, or just annoyed by the credit that Tonelli gives to himself for the Higgs boson discovery. Of course, no single man or woman can self-assess his or her contribution as larger than that of the other five or ten thousand who participated, as there were too many details, small inventions, brilliant solutions to apparently unsolvable problems that were required to get from a blueprint to a discovery, and these were due to different actors. 

I am sure Tonelli knows this, and he is certainly aware of the envy of a few colleagues - he writes it out plainly, as he explains the time when he was preparing his December 2011 talk, when the Higgs discovery was not yet a fait accompli and the interest of the whole physics community was centered on what CMS and ATLAS would present (they ended up giving strong hints of the Higgs boson existence, but no discovery claim yet). Tonelli explains that on that occasion one colleague went as far as to tell him he'd give 20 years of his life to be in Tonelli's place.

I find a similar thought really excessive. Luckily, one thing I certainly do not suffer from is this kind of feeling. I know there are colleagues whose happiness strictly depends on their own success and career. I have a high esteem of their determination, their focus and will. But being in that situation is not to my liking - you put all your eggs in one basket, and you sacrifice too much. Get a life, folks!

For me physics is important, and I would certainly be happy to one day be in the spotlights for having been a successful physicist, but physics is not the only love in my own life. My career choices and dedication to physics have maybe been insufficient to become a superstar, but they have been driven by my willful decision to not invest there everything I have got. I want to keep some of my time for other occupations, that give me a lot of pleasure - no less than doing research in particle physics. 

Playing the piano, writing, playing chess are time-consuming activities. Spending time on them does not mean I subtract it to my working hours, of course, but it does mean that I am not spending all of my efforts, daily and nightly, on particle physics. To make an example, it took me 10 years to graduate, as I was spending a lot of time studying chess and participating to chess tournaments. So I know that my chances to one day become the leader of one big experiment, or to make a giant discovery, are smaller than those of some of my most aggressive peers. But for sure my life is worth more than that, and I would not give one single day of it for giving a particle discovery talk.