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The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design [Paperback]

by Leonard Susskind
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1, 2006 0316013331 978-0316013338 Reprint
In his first book ever, the father of string theory reinvents the world's concept of the known universe and man's unique place within it. Line drawings.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As modern physics has developed a better understanding of how the universe operates at its most fundamental levels, one thing has become increasingly clear: we're damned lucky to be here at all. The laws of physics are precariously balanced, and were the value of one constant slightly different, life as we know it wouldn't exist. To explain the ridiculous improbability of it all, some physicists have turned to the "Anthropic Principle": the universe seems perfectly tailored to us because if it weren't, we wouldn't be here to observe it. The underlying rationale for this argument involves the "landscape" of potential laws of physics (which, it turns out, aren't so immutable after all), a whole bunch of extra dimensions and lots of particle physics. Luckily, Susskind—the father of string theory—does the job right, guiding readers through the current controversy over the Anthropic Principle. Make no mistake: this is the cutting edge of physics as described by one of the sharpest scientific minds around. While the subtitle is a bit misleading (this isn't about intelligent design in the Kansas Board of Education sense, but actually a controversy at once bigger and less prominent), persistent readers will finish this book understanding and caring about contemporary physics in ways both unexpected and gratifying. (Dec. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Physicist Susskind is a founder of string theory, and his first popular work will be of utmost significance to science readers. They will be challenged throughout by Susskind's ideas, of which strings are but a part; his driving curiosity is to discover why the laws of physics are what they are and so finely poised to permit life. Susskind discusses how slight alterations of physical values would destroy atoms and, hence, life. Deeming unscientific any proposition of a supernatural agency in setting the physical dials so exactly, Susskind advances a radical concept he calls the "landscape." Valiantly explaining it to his lay audience, Susskind, after introducing the moving parts of his theory (general relativity, quantum mechanics, vacuum energy), compares our universe to a rolling ball on an undulating landscape. Its place of rest equates to our laws of physics. In this extraordinary work, Susskind ushers us to the mind-bending edge of a possible paradigm shift. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (December 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316013331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316013338
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
239 of 253 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slick sales job with a large side of information January 4, 2006
Format:Hardcover
Unlike the physicists who wrote the first two reviews, I don't know much 'bout string theory. Which is why I turn to books like this, or Greene's _The Elegant Universe_. Let me try to explain what this book is trying to do, and how, for one proverbial intelligent layman, it stacks up.

Susskind is a man with a mission. What he's describing here is not settled science, but his own view of the direction fundamental physics should be trying to go. In order to describe that properly, of course, he has to explain a good deal of settled physics along the way. He does this engagingly and fairly clearly, though he doesn't have the truly remarkable expository gifts of Brian Greene, and I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to tackle this book should read _Elegant Universe_ first.

The book has two tightly intertwined main theses. The first has to do with the Anthropic Principle: the observation that a large number of physical constants are required to fall within a surprisingly narrow range of values, in order for the apparatus of biology ever to appear. Slight tweaks to any of them would make galaxies, stars, atoms, chemical elements heavier than helium, to say nothing of carbon based life forms, impossible. Susskind's thesis here is that the AP is neither, as many theists would like to claim, evidence for a Designer who tailored the universe to make us possible; nor, as secular physicists would like to claim, an uninteresting tautology requiring no explanation. Rather, its explanation is to be found in the last decades' developments in string theory.
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57 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book about the properties of reality December 25, 2005
Format:Hardcover
Is this book just what I wanted? Well, what I think I really wanted was for Einstein to return to us today and write a book on the philosophy of modern physics based on today's understanding of things. Yes, that would have been just great! But Einstein is dead. Luckily, of course, there are some excellent physicists around, such as the author of this book.

This book, written by an eminent String Theorist, has some fine explanations for the layman of some topics in modern physics, including String Theory. But the most interesting part is advertised in the title, namely the nature of the cosmic landscape.

The cosmic landscape refers to the mathematical space which has as its elements the values of the "fields" that constitute the physical laws and constants which apply to a particular "universe" (with a small u) or "pocket universe" if one prefers that term. The idea is that there may be many possible sets of physical laws and constants. The more we discover about physics, the more it seems that there are plenty of possible universes. But do they really exist? That is, is the landscape populated by more than our known universe? Is it heavily populated? The author argues that it is. And that certainly makes sense to me.

We're told about the anthropic principle. At its simplest, this principle merely states that we have to live in a universe that permits intelligent life. That's not very profound. But this principle also suggests that there is indeed a landscape of possible universes, and it encourages us to verify that only a very small fraction of them would permit the kind of complexity required for intelligent life. And in fact, Susskind gives us a good example of this.
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56 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I a bit mystified as to why so many book reviews center around God. This is a book about physics, about using the scientific method to find out how our universe works. Indeed, it even discusses our latest tentative views about many possible universes (an infinite number of them?) might work.

This book does touch on religion at one major point. Most traditional theists, including Jews, Christians and Muslims, assume that this is the only possible universe, created by God. Modern day science - which physicists fully admit is incomplete - shows that our particular universe has a number of constants, a change of which would likely make life as we know it impossible. This has been seized upon by theists as proof of God's existence and creation of the universe. Unfortunately, this is both bad science and bad theology. I don't have time to fully explain why, but I can summarize the problem: It is a "God of the Gaps" argument, which makes God smaller and more inconsequential with every subsequent discovery.

As for the actual physics content of the book, it is great. It is not meant to focus on string theory alone (for that see "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene), but it does discuss string theory in some detail, with useful diagrams. Susskind also discusses cosmology, branes, M-theory and other related ideas.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bold speculation, but refuted as science July 10, 2011
By dcleve
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, by a clear writer, who has big ideas, and expresses them well. I recommend reading this book, then reading a critic of String theory, Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics.

Leonard Susskind is the original inventor of String Theory over 25 years ago, and has now merged its latest permutations with Inflationary cosmology to produce a theory of everything. Susskind throughout the book talks about how he spends much of his time trying to figure out how to explain esoteric ideas in physics to laymen. I have an undergraduate degree in physics, and have read perhaps a dozen books on cosmology, and was able to follow this book fairly well. I am a "layman" compared to Susskind, but have a much stronger astrophysics background than most "laymen", so take warning. Understanding this book is not as easy as falling off a log.

His starting point is that Fine Tuning is a legitimate argument - that our universe is fine tuned to create life to a bizarre degree. I will not present his rationale for Fine Tuning. He for many years rejected the Fine Tuning claims, but became convinced himself when the Cosmological Constant was shown to be very small but positive. Since the possible range of the CC is huge, and anything but zero or very close to zero values will lead to very short-lived universes, or ones with no matter concentrations, many physicists assumed that the CC was somehow forced to be zero, by unknown physics laws. That it is not was startling to astrophysicists, and for Susskind this was the last straw to support a Fine Tuning argument.

There are two ways we know of to get Fine Tuning, design or evolutionary selection. Selection requires multiple random options to select between, and because he rejects Design, this is where Susskind goes.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and informative book
Still in the middle of it but finding it good. Will continue to read it as I am able to.
Published 15 days ago by Chris Burgin
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read if you are curious about the universe
I believe everyone who is curious about the grandest and most fundamental things of the universe definitely should read it. It is a pleasure to read. Read more
Published 27 days ago by Szamil
5.0 out of 5 stars The Landscape of Possibilities
This is the first book I have read by Leonard Susskind, and I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Randolph Eck
5.0 out of 5 stars We're not in Kansas anymore...
I'm not a poet but I am an ordained Lutheran pastor and I loved this read. I am passing it on to my youngest son because I believe quantum physics is opening up the future like... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kirk E. Meseck
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading
I like this author because he is a Stanford professor with a lot of professional credibility. He is also a pretty clear explainer, and I like his writing style. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Robert A. Giunta
5.0 out of 5 stars Quantum theory without the math.
Thoroughly enjoyed this book! However, I have previously experienced talks and lectures by Dr. Susskind via his youtube videos from Stanford University. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Wels Musgrave
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Provocative Book on an On-Going Debate
The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design by Leonard Susskind

"The Cosmic Landscape" is an informative, provocative theoretical physics... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Book Shark
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
From one of the greatest minds of our time, this is a lucid and thought-provoking work that is well worth paying for.
Published 8 months ago by GregoryDearth
5.0 out of 5 stars best popularized science i have read
There are two main concerns I have when reading popularized science. First, is the use of analogy. For laypeople, analogy is a must because the math is far too complex. Read more
Published 8 months ago by gamer
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book to gain access to complex structures
The narrative is well organized and the data is explained very well. I attended his recent lecture in Santa Fe and that talk, like this text addressed the depth of theoretical... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ed Epping
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