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The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory (Complete Idiot's Guides (Lifestyle Paperback)) Paperback – July 1, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Despite the crazy title, this is an excellent popular account of string theory. As the astronomer Martin Rees writes in the foreword, ‘For aliens, string theory may be a doddle. But for most of us humans, they are a Himalayan challenge.’ So, this book is to be welcomed, not only for explaining the physics in an easily assimilated way, but also for articulating why superstrings and the rest of fundamental physics matter at all. This is something that physicists themselves rarely do. Best of all, Musser, a staff editor and writer at Scientific American, tackles the controversial aspects of string theory, which have been the subject of much journalistic nonsense lately, and gets it all just about right.”
Physics World, December 2008

“… is actually a thoroughly worthwhile read, doing as good a job as you could hope for in reducing the Gordian complexity of string theory into something that intelligent readers feel that they understand.”
Physics Education, November 2008

About the Author

George Musser is a staff editor and writer for Scientific American magazine. He was recently awarded the 2010 Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award by the American Astronomical Society. He was the originator and one of the lead editors for the magazine's special issue "A Matter of Time" (Sept. 2002), which won a National Magazine Award for editorial excellence, and he coordinated the single-topic issue "Crossroads for Planet Earth" (Sept. 2005), which won a Global Media Award from the Population Institute and was a National Magazine Award finalist.
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Product Details

  • Series: Complete Idiot's Guides (Lifestyle Paperback)
  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Alpha (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592577024
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592577026
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #647,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

George Musser is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a contributing editor for Scientific American magazine. He is the recipient of the 2011 Science Writing Award from the American Institute of Physics and the 2010 Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award of the American Astronomical Society. He was the originator and one of the lead editors for the single-topic issue "A Matter of Time" in September 2002, which won a National Magazine Award for editorial excellence, and coordinated the single-topic issue "Crossroads for Planet Earth" in September 2005, which won a Global Media Award from the Population Institute and was a National Magazine Award finalist. Musser did his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering and mathematics at Brown University and his graduate studies in planetary science at Cornell University, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a very well written book, easy to read, flows very well from topic to topic, doesn't spend too much time on any single area and has excellent coverage.
This book is for you if:
-You are looking for a good overview of the challenges that String theory is trying to solve
-You are not interested in a book of Math formula's (there is no math) or a book that just reprints the theory
-You are interested in a balanced view including discussions of alternative theories (it mostly covers String theory but it does highlight how other theories deal with the problem) as opposed to bashing other theories
-You have read several other books but still don't see the big picture
-You are not interested in a history lesson on how great the author is and all of his friends and all the other guys are nuts
Hope this helps
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Format: Paperback
Five stars for this introductory book on Quantum Gravity. The name of this book as has been noted is quite misleading. This is an extremely balanced tome not only on String Theory, but on other notable alternative approaches on rational speculative theories as well, concerning what takes place at the level of fundamental particles and small length scales: notably LQG = Loop Quantum Gravity and CDT = Causal Dynamical Triangulations = "Buckyspace". I suspect it was originally submitted as "Quantum Gravity" but overruled at the Editorial level as "String Theory" for Marketing reasons, which may have been a wise decision but nevertheless would confuse those seeking the broader view this book expounds.

One embarrassing consequence of leading QG research is the many "wars" going on among our world's top theoretical physicists, and Musser does a fine job explaining these differences in his chapter on "The String Theory Wars." Other books on this subject are informative yet one-sided; this book gives equal balance to all sides explaining the Pros and Cons of all parties.

He eschews mentioning the particular scientists involved in the theories in favor of focusing on the theories themselves. This is a refreshing approach in its own right and makes the book as tight and concise as possible. His writing style is informative, interesting, entertaining, and lucid; one walks away from this book feeling a mastery of the issues at hand, and well prepared to read more detailed works on these subjects with an open-minded attitude to other authors' bias. As a science journalist, he has done this aspect of his job splendidly.

As a researcher, he has also excelled. He has consulted the experts on all sides, notably String Theorist Keith Dienes, Loop Gravitationist co-founder Carlo Rovelli, CDT co-founder Renate Loll, and dozens of others in these fields such as Polchinski and Witten.
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Format: Paperback
A chunk of the book covers relativity.
Quantum mechanics is presented with its incompatibilities.
With these formalities over with, string theory is discussed.

There are some difficulties here.
Profound conclusions are presented without much background.
The conflicting view points get tiresome.
There is not much of a climax at the end.
But these problems are inherent to the subject matter.

The digressions and historical bits are always interesting.
The endless analogies to everyday life are better than you would expect.
There is a joy about the audacity of the subject which comes through.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book, George Musser has made an attempt to introduce the concept of string theory to the masses; however, I don't think this "idiot's guide" really accomplishes that goal. Musser covers a wide range of topics in twenty-three bite size chapters of about ten to twelve pages each. I have found in chapter after chapter that the discussion is too superficial to really grasp the concepts discussed. If you think of the vast knowledge of this subject matter as being a large pond, this book will simply give you bits and pieces of information like a rock skimming across the surface of the pond. If you had no prior knowledge of the subject matter, I just think you would walk away with not much more that a smattering of facts and information, but no real depth of understanding.

Of course, to be fair, this is a difficult subject to "translate" into the common vernacular so to speak, but I know some justice can be done to this feat. I know because I have read the books written by Brian Greene on the subject. For example, Green's book "The Elegant Universe" did a splendid job of presenting the concepts of string theory and the cosmos in a manner that allowed comprehension by the non-expert.

Nevertheless, in his book, Musser touches on many subjects, such as relativity, quantum theory and the world of the small, the Standard Model, black holes, the big bang, time travel, gravitons, strings, loop quantum gravity, extra dimensions, parallel universes, symmetry, branes, testing string theory, and more. New terms introduced are defined in sidebars as are explanations of key ideas and concepts albeit tersely.

If you can be content by a collection of "fast facts" on this subject matter, you will probably find this book satisfying.
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Having some experience with this subject, I purchased this book to fill in gaps in knowledge I have about the "current state" of String Theory among physicists. The part that needs improvement is the "In The Loop" sections, that are supposed to give information about the physicists who are writing about the current state of study on the subject. It may only be the academic in me, but I wish the author had provided dates on the material included in "In the Loop" simply because it would give a clearer picture of where the reader is in spacetime when reading this book. ...since it is about spacetime and all...

I would however recommend it for a great introduction to get one thinking about this exciting, emerging field that may well provide the Big Answer we as a people have been searching for since general relativity shook up the apple cart, so to speak.
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