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The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory [Kindle Edition]

Brian Greene
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (724 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A new edition of the New York Times bestseller—now a three-part Nova special: a fascinating and thought-provoking journey through the mysteries of space, time, and matter.


Now with a new preface (not in any other edition) that will review the enormous public reception of the relatively obscure string theory—made possible by this book and an increased number of adherents amongst physicists—The Elegant Universe "sets a standard that will be hard to beat" (New York Times Book Review). Brian Greene, one of the world's leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of eleven dimensions, where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter—from the smallest quarks to the most gargantuan supernovas—is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy.



Today physicists and mathematicians throughout the world are feverishly working on one of the most ambitious theories ever proposed: superstring theory. String theory, as it is often called, is the key to the Unified Field Theory that eluded Einstein for more than thirty years. Finally, the century-old antagonism between the large and the small-General Relativity and Quantum Theory-is resolved. String theory proclaims that all of the wondrous happenings in the universe, from the frantic dancing of subatomic quarks to the majestic swirling of heavenly galaxies, are reflections of one grand physical principle and manifestations of one single entity: microscopically tiny vibrating loops of energy, a billionth of a billionth the size of an atom. In this brilliantly articulated and refreshingly clear book, Greene relates the scientific story and the human struggle behind twentieth-century physics' search for a theory of everything.



Through the masterful use of metaphor and analogy, The Elegant Universe makes some of the most sophisticated concepts ever contemplated viscerally accessible and thoroughly entertaining, bringing us closer than ever to understanding how the universe works.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There is an ill-concealed skeleton in the closet of physics: "As they are currently formulated, general relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right." Each is exceedingly accurate in its field: general relativity explains the behavior of the universe at large scales, while quantum mechanics describes the behavior of subatomic particles. Yet the theories collide horribly under extreme conditions such as black holes or times close to the big bang. Brian Greene, a specialist in quantum field theory, believes that the two pillars of physics can be reconciled in superstring theory, a theory of everything.

Superstring theory has been called "a part of 21st-century physics that fell by chance into the 20th century." In other words, it isn't all worked out yet. Despite the uncertainties--"string theorists work to find approximate solutions to approximate equations"--Greene gives a tour of string theory solid enough to satisfy the scientifically literate.

Though Ed Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study is in many ways the human hero of The Elegant Universe, it is not a human-side-of-physics story. Greene's focus throughout is the science, and he gives the nonspecialist at least an illusion of understanding--or the sense of knowing what it is that you don't know. And that is traditionally the first step on the road to knowledge. --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

One of the more compelling scientific (cum-theological) questions in the Middle Ages was: "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" Today's version in cutting-edge science is, "How many strings... ?" As posited by s tring theory physics, strings are furiously vibrating loops of stuff. The concept of strings was devised to help scientists describe simultaneously both energy and matter. The frequency and resonance of strings' vibration, just like those of strings on an instrument, determine charge, spin and other familiar properties of energy?and eventually the structure of the universe: a true music of the spheres. There's a chance that strings are themselves made up of something still smaller. But scientists can prove their existence only on the blackboard and computer, because they are much too tiny?a hundred billion billion times smaller than the nucleus of an atom?to be observed experimentally. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Cornell and Columbia universities, makes the terribly complex theory of strings accessible to all. He possesses a remarkable gift for using the everyday to illustrate what may be going on in dimensions beyond our feeble human perception. Just when we might be tempted to dismiss strings as grist for the publish-or-perish mill, Greene explains how they have demonstrated connections between mathematics and physics that have helped solve age-old conundrums in each field. This book will appeal to astronomy as well as math and physics fans because it probes the important insights string theory gives into hotly debated issues in cosmology. Later chapters require careful attention to Greene's explications, but the effort will prepare readers to follow the scientific advances likely to be made in the next millennium through application of string theory. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
489 of 508 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I felt my brain growing! July 30, 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Before I read this book, I didn't know the first thing about string theory, general relativity or quantum mechanics. I believe people like me were the author's target audience; that is, people who are profoundly interested in the mysterious physics of the universe, but lack the scientific or mathematical background to understand them in their raw form. This book certainly shouldn't be seen as anything other than an introduction for those of us outside the field of physics.

Each chapter in this book lays down the foundation for the next chapter. Greene manages to group together scattered discoveries from the past century or so according to their relevance to the topic at hand, and it feels very natural. Every complex concept is explained in somewhat technical detail and then followed up immediately by a clever (and occasionally humorous) analogy. The key points are always restated and rephrased to make absolutely sure the reader is on the same page with the author. This method really does wonders for nailing important concepts to your head, which turns out to be absolutely essential as the book progresses and new ideas are stacked atop the old.

This book, overall, is interesting. There are some extraordinarily intriguing chapters that will have your mind racing for at least a couple days, trying to piece together the chapter's implications, and then there are a couple dull chapters that almost feel like a chore to get through. However, the dull chapters, which seem to be flooded with basic mathematical and technical details, are necessary to understand the big picture. Greene only presents us with the details we need to understand, nothing more, and I honestly can't think of a way he could have made these dull chapters exciting.
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553 of 579 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnficent accomplishment February 5, 2000
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In this book on eleven-dimensional space-time, Brian Greene proves himself to be truly exceptional in at least three of those dimensions: by his thorough comprehension of the origins and direction of theoretical physics up through the emergence of superstring theory, by his monumental contributions to that theory in identifying its components and extending its reach, and, thirdly, in explaining this subject in a way that allows the "layman" to gain an appreciation and intuitive understanding of it.
By way of explaining the use of the term "layman," let me point out that this book is not light reading. I don't believe it can be read by those without at least some exposure to college level physics. I am a former high school physics teacher, and I had to really stretch to understand Dr. Greene's explanations. Nevertheless, considering the mathematical and physical complexity of the subject matter, Dr. Greene has done a splendid and remarkable job of explaining the subject at a conceptual, nonmathematical level. Anyone with a physics background through the level of an introductory course in modern physics will find Dr. Greene's treatise accessible. It brings the reader closer to the current state of research in the rapidly moving field of superstring theory than books written even two years ago.
The book requires work, but it was a labor of love. This book is beautifully and artfully written and was a joy to read. I recommend it highly to anyone with the modest physics background described above who enjoys exploring theoretical physics and cosmology at a level approximating that of Scientific American.
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175 of 183 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book December 11, 1999
Format:Hardcover
Assumes no prior knowledge of physics as such. Has an excellent introduction to relativity and quantum theory. Actually, I haven't seen a better introduction to relativity or quantum theory elsewhere. The book then moves on to string theory (which is the main theme of the book). An excellent introduction to string theory, I must say. The book is very easy to follow and can very well serve as a layman's introduction to high-end physics. For the more advanced readers, the author provides endnotes which elaborate the subject matter in a mathematical/physical perspective. People from all walks of life will enjoy this book
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96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I recommend this book to anyone who is curious enough to wonder about the origins of matter, energy, and the universe itself. Mr. Greene makes it very easy for the lay readers to grasp the basic understanding of some out of this world concepts, such as extra dimensions and vibrating strings. I am a professional engineer with years of training in math and physics, however, I enjoyed the non-technical way Professor Greene has written this book. After reading this book I had a much better understanding of quantum mechanics, relativity, and the string theory, and enjoyed reading the whole book from beginning to the end.
Some of the reviewers have faulted Professor Greene for communicating his ideas without using complicated mathematics. To me, this is one of strengths of this and other similar books that are written for the lay people. Those readers who are mathematical geniuses can find plenty of other resources to suit their taste. Others think that it is inappropriate to write about incomplete theories that cannot be experimentally verified at the present time. This is absurd. This is what the progress of science is all about. I thank Brian Greene for sharing his ideas so clearly with the rest of us. I am going to talk to my young daughter about this book in the hopes of inspiring her to someday join the minds who want to unlock the mysteries of our universe.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Greene explains things that I want to understand better, in a way that...
Dr. Greene explains things that I want to understand better, in a way that a non-scientist enjoys.
Published 4 days ago by Ben Homer
4.0 out of 5 stars but WITH this book I feel like I at least have a shot at increasing my...
I'm a physics neophyte and am still struggling to understand some basic concepts outlined in this book, but WITH this book I feel like I at least have a shot at increasing my... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Nancy H Adams
4.0 out of 5 stars Non elegant reader.
I bought the dvd, and the book and I still don't get it lol.
Published 22 days ago by Mox Atkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great boot! Received on time. Very satisfied with the services and I recommend to a friend!
Published 25 days ago by AK
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
An excellent read for those wanting to get at least an inkling of what's out there. However, one has to be able to continue reading even when they at times think "I don't... Read more
Published 1 month ago by fwhitten
5.0 out of 5 stars Would recommend highly if you have interest in astronomy
Very well writen and captivating, difficult to put it down. Would recommend highly if you have interest in astronomy, even if your knowledge is limited.
Kay, s husband.
Published 1 month ago by Kay Maidment
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost in another dimension
As a non - mathematician I found this to be pretty good read. It was surprisingly understandable, and was quite a good summary of the current state of string theory research. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Bruce Forinash
1.0 out of 5 stars I felt as if my brain was in an atom smasher reading this book.
Not comprehensible for most people without a strong background in physics. Too technical for lay people like me. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robert Cohen
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
It's a great read. Certain chapters can be very difficult to get a grasp but for the most part the book is perfect for those who have an interest in physics and string theory.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
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Published 1 month ago by Norman Heinly
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More About the Author


Brian Greene received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and lives in New York City.

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Albert Einstein's theory of gravity is generally explained in a wrong way
You make an excellent point about the distractive effect of using bowling balls on flexible sheets and other similar analogies to illustrate gravity. They illustrate nothing and cause the student to be even more confused.

With my limited understanding. I think the difficulty is that gravity... Read More
Aug 26, 2011 by Bob Roesser |  See all 3 posts
The Elegant Universe
I think It would be better to get the audio book as it is a great book to listen to, so your brain doesn't have to do as much work while trying to understand the underlying big picture of everything being said having said that I think YOU SHOULD BUY THE BOOK AND AUDIO BOOK, so that you can listen... Read More
Nov 16, 2011 by Mark R. Baker |  See all 3 posts
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