From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. If it's possible to write a literary treatment of cutting-edge cosmology, groundbreaking physicist Bojowald has done it, complete with illustrations of abstract sculpture and quotes from thinkers as diverse as Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Charles Dickens, and Joseph Heller. Bojowald, a professor of physics at Penn State, explores loop quantum theory, an idea he developed as a postdoctoral student in 2000, to fill in the gaps left by 20th-century physics. Despite advances like relativity theory, curved space, and quantum theory, physics falters when it comes to explaining what happened before the Big Bang, when time, space, matter, and energy were all shrunk into a bizarre entity called a singularity, where math and logic as we know them failed. Later, string theory, with its extra dimensions and elegant equations, offered promise, but only with loop quantum cosmology were physicists able to see the universe be born, expand, shrink, and be reborn, over and over again. Bojowald largely avoids mathematics for accessibility, but that can leave his writing dense with rigor as he strives to cover "the Whole Story." Readers willing to meet his challenge will find a fascinating new universe revealed by his enthusiastic firsthand approach. 37 illus. (Nov.) (c)
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In theoretical physics, gravity can be an intractable problem. At extreme values prevalent near the big bang or black holes, general relativity can’t accommodate it. String theory purports to be a solution, but not all physicists are on the string bandwagon. One such recalcitrant, Bojowald champions a rival theory called loop quantum gravity, which he here valiantly presents to the nonmathematical. If his explanation daunts some science readers, its implications will be sufficiently clear and exciting to pull them through his text, because those involve the start of the big bang and the interior of a black hole. Notionally, each one is a singularity as Bojowald describes the failure of mathematics when energy density goes to infinity and space collapses to zero volume. Loop quantum gravity offers an escape from these terrifying places by acting like a quantum-mechanical Atlas who holds space open just enough so that physics—the universe—can continue to exist. Complex but comprehensible, Bojowald’s treatment of loop quantum gravity should compete with popular string-theory titles such as Endless Universe (2007), by Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok. --Gilbert Taylor
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