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Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law 1st Edition

93 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465092758
ISBN-10: 0465092756
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

String theory is the only game in town in physics departments these days. But echoing Lee Smolin's forthcoming The Trouble with Physics (Reviews, July 24), Woit, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia, points out—again and again—that string theory, despite its two decades of dominance, is just a hunch aspiring to be a theory. It hasn't predicted anything, as theories are required to do, and its practitioners have become so desperate, says Woit, that they're willing to redefine what doing science means in order to justify their labors. The first half of Woit's book is a tightly argued, beautifully written account of the development of the standard model and includes a history of particle accelerators that will interest science buffs. When he gets into the history of string theory, however, his pace accelerates alarmingly, with highly sketchy chapters. Reading this in conjunction with Smolin's more comprehensive critique of string theory, readers will be able to make up their own minds about whether string theory lives up to the hype. (Sept.)
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"Woit offers some intriguing ruminations on the relationship between physics and mathematics..." -- New York Times Book Review, 9/17/06

"[A]n intriguing view of a significant scientific controversy..." -- Library Journal, 8/15/06

"[L]ively and entertaining" -- Discover Magazine, September 2006

See all Editorial Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (September 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465092756
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465092758
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,053,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

367 of 397 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
String theory is a formidable subject to learn, both from a physical and mathematical standpoint. But it is even a harder subject to teach to an audience of non-experts, not because its ideas are hard to express verbally in front of this audience, but because its practitioners sometimes feel it is beneath them to do so. Those who are not familiar with string theory but are curious as to its conceptual foundations might therefore be left to themselves to pursue an understanding of these foundations. However such an understanding can be obtained, for there are of late a few books that have been written by experts in string theory that are targeted to a readership that have a strong desire to learn the subject.

The author of this book recognizes the paucity of expository material on string theory, particularly that dealing with the mathematical formalism, and although this book is a polemic against string theory and its status as a physical and scientific theory, the author introduces (perhaps on purpose) the reader to the theory in a way that is understandable without sacrificing scientific accuracy. But the book could also be of interest to more advanced readers, i.e. those (such as this reviewer) who have a thorough understanding of the physics and mathematics behind string theory but who are not conducting research in it. The author demands rightfully that scientific theory must be testable or at least must have some amount of empirical predictions. He pulls no punches in his critique of string theory, and is very open about what he thinks are the motivations behind those who are actively involved in it.
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145 of 156 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on September 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've been following the arguments made by Peter Woit against String Theory for quite some time, and it's a pleasure to be able to have them all in a single volume. His arguments are very persuasive, and his writing clear and to the point. This, however, is not a book that the general audience will find easy to follow. The earlier chapters recount the canonical story of the success of the particle physics in the 20th century, and if you are familiar with that story you can safely skip these chapters. The later chapters are the really interesting ones, but unless you have at least some familiarity with theoretical particle physics and the modern mathematics, you might find yourself lost. Even with that caveat it is still possible to appreciate the central theme of this book: theoretical particle physics took a wrong turn somewhere in the late 70s and the early 80s, and has never been able to recover from this. Woit is appealing in this book to the practitioners in the field to be more honest with their assessments of the direction in which the theoretical particle physics is headed, and the lack of any meaningful progress.

Unfortunately, I am very sceptical of the potential impact of this book on the field of particle physics. The Emperor is naked, but he is perceived as irrelevant as well.
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113 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Couder on September 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The first part - essentially an account of the development of the standard model - really isn't aimed at the layperson at all - the total lack of equations notwithstanding. I much prefer F. Close's "The Cosmic Onion" (released in 1983 but a new edition called "The New Cosmic Onion" is now available), Veltman's "Facts and Mysteries in Elementary Particle Physics" or even Lisa Randall's account in her very popular "Warped passages". However, Peter Woit does show some originality in approaching the matter from a mathematician's point of view, and in elucidating the important role of Hermann Weyl in the development of quantum mechanics, something you certainly won't find in other popular books on theoretical physics.

The second part sets out to prove that String Theory (ST), the acclaimed (or proclaimed?) successor of the standard model - is "not even wrong", meaning that this theory can't even be falsified. A very ungrateful task, given a) the attractiveness String Theory noticeably exerts on both professional theoretical physicists and laypersons alike (as evidenced by the huge popularity of Brian Greene's and Michio Kaku's books, amongst others); and b) the fact that alternative (and far less celebrated) approaches seem to be - from a layman's perspective at least - as tentative as ST.
I cannot say his strategy appears to be very coherent - we rather get a succession of pinprick attacks. Each of those in itself would probably not have convinced me there was something wrong with ST, but taken together, they succeed in making ST far less incontestable than some popular science writers would have us believe.
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108 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Free Thinker on August 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is said that over the entrance to Plato's Academy hung a sign that read "let no one ignorant of geometry enter these walls." A similar sign should be posted on the cover of this book, also mentioning a knowledge of calculus, algebra, and number theory.
Nonetheless it is a very good book which illustrates how fads and peer pressure can effect even the most dispassionate among us.

It's basic message can be summed up as follows: 20th century physics did a great job of explaining how the world works. By 1975 the fundamentals of underlying reality were pretty well understood, save for a few loose threads. The most troublesome of these was the question of how to explain gravity in a way that harmonized with quantum mechanics.

A group of well-meaning mathematicians and physicists developed an idea called string theory to solve this final problem.From the first it appealed to many as an elegant and beautiful theory, and soon the physics community was singing its praises.

Unfortunately, many decades later, it remains not only unproven but unprovable. No one has yet devised a way to make predictions from it that can be proven true or falsified, ex. the claim that there are dimensions beyond the four we currently experience. Without the ability to empirically examine its claims, it is not science, but rather a form of mathematical philosophy. Given this, it behooves the scientific community to look in other directions for a true unified field theory.

It takes the author 275 pages to say this, and along the way he dumps on heavy doses of higher math terminology which will leave the unitiated with their heads spinning. Being no mathematician, I was sent to the dictionary numerous times seeking meanings for several of the terms he threw out.
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