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The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality [Kindle Edition]

Brian Greene
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (372 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading physicists and author the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Elegant Universe, comes a grand tour of the universe that makes us look at reality in a completely different way.

Space and time form the very fabric of the cosmos. Yet they remain among the most mysterious of concepts. Is space an entity? Why does time have a direction? Could the universe exist without space and time? Can we travel to the past? Greene has set himself a daunting task: to explain non-intuitive, mathematical concepts like String Theory, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and Inflationary Cosmology with analogies drawn from common experience. From Newton’s unchanging realm in which space and time are absolute, to Einstein’s fluid conception of spacetime, to quantum mechanics’ entangled arena where vastly distant objects can instantaneously coordinate their behavior, Greene takes us all, regardless of our scientific backgrounds, on an irresistible and revelatory journey to the new layers of reality that modern physics has discovered lying just beneath the surface of our everyday world.


From the Trade Paperback edition.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As a boy, Brian Greene read Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus and was transformed. Camus, in Greene's paraphrase, insisted that the hero triumphs "by relinquishing everything beyond immediate experience." After wrestling with this idea, however, Greene rejected Camus and realized that his true idols were physicists; scientists who struggled "to assess life and to experience the universe at all possible levels, not just those that happened to be accessible to our frail human senses." His driving question in The Fabric of the Cosmos, then, is fundamental: "What is reality?" Over sixteen chapters, he traces the evolving human understanding of the substrate of the universe, from classical physics to ten-dimensional M-Theory.

Assuming an audience of non-specialists, Greene has set himself a daunting task: to explain non-intuitive, mathematical concepts like String Theory, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and Inflationary Cosmology with analogies drawn from common experience. For the most part, he succeeds. His language reflects a deep passion for science and a gift for translating concepts into poetic images. When explaining, for example, the inability to see the higher dimensions inherent in string theory, Greene writes: "We don't see them because of the way we see…like an ant walking along a lily pad…we could be floating within a grand, expansive, higher-dimensional space."

For Greene, Rhodes Scholar and professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, speculative science is not always as thorough and successful. His discussion of teleportation, for example, introduces and then quickly tables a valuable philosophical probing of identity. The paradoxes of time travel, however, are treated with greater depth, and his vision of life in a three-brane universe is compelling and--to use his description for quantum reality--"weird."

In the final pages Greene turns from science fiction back to the fringes of science fact, and he returns with rigor to frame discoveries likely to be made in the coming decades. "We are, most definitely, still wandering in the jungle," he concludes. Thanks to Greene, though, some of the underbrush has been cleared. --Patrick O'Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

String theory is a recent development in physics that, by positing that all which exists is composed of infinitesimally small vibrating loops of energy, seeks to unify Einstein's theories and those of quantum mechanics into a so-called "theory of everything." In 1999, Greene, one of the world's leading physicists, published The Elegant Universe (Norton), a popular presentation of string theory that became a major bestseller and, last fall, a highly rated PBS/Nova series. The strength of the book resided in Greene's unparalleled (among contemporary science writers) ability to translate higher mathematics (the language of physics) and its findings into everyday language and images, through adept use of metaphor and analogy, and crisp, witty prose. The same virtues adhere to this new book, which offers a lively view of human understanding of space and time, an understanding of which string theory is an as-yet unproven advance. To do this, Greene takes a roughly chronological approach, beginning with Newton, moving through Einstein and quantum physics, and on to string theory and its hypotheses (that there are 11 dimensions, ten of space and one of time; that there may be an abundance of parallel universes; that time travel may be possible, and so on) and imminent experiments that may test some of its tenets. None of this is easy reading, mostly because the concepts are tough to grasp and Greene never seems to compromise on accuracy. Eighty-five line drawings ease the task, however, as does Greene's felicitous narration; most importantly, though, Greene not only makes concepts clear but explains why they matter. He opens the book with a discussion of Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus, setting a humanistic tone that he sustains throughout. This is popular science writing of the highest order, with copious endnotes that, unlike the text, include some math.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
551 of 563 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Record Setting March 4, 2004
Format:Hardcover
I've never written a review before, but I have enjoyed browsing reader's comments on books I read or teach from. While reading the review that claims this new book to be a "dumbing down" of The Elegant Universe, and to have "no new material", I felt I had to set the record straight. For the record: I teach Physics for Poets class in a local community college, and use The Elegant Universe as one of our books. Next year I will add Fabric of the Cosmos to the syllabus since it has at least 80% new material, and the overlap with The Elegant Universe is done in a new way that I have not seen in any other book, The Elegant Universe or otherwise. The reviewer says that "200 pages are spent reviewing Newton and Einstein" which is a factual error. It is just over 50 pages, and a fascinating new angle known as Mach's principle is used.
For the reviewer to say that "spooky action at a distance" is in Elegant, is also a factual error. He must be thinking of another book. This (huge) subject, entanglement, was not covered in the Elegant Universe as I know for sure, since in the past I have had to assign other books for these ideas. I might add that the discussion of entanglement in Fabric goes far ahead of any other since it proves Bell's theorem, without math! I didn't think that was possible! The main theme of The Arrow of Time which runs through Fabric, is not touched on at all in Elegant, nor are the questions of whether space and time are real or just ideas.
If someone is looking for a direct sequel to Elegent, this is not that book. Fabric is a monumental work of its own and should be read as such.
For other suggested readings: Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps, Janna Levin's How the Universe Got its Spots.
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174 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The One Book to Read March 16, 2004
Format:Hardcover
I loved The Elegant Universe.
I loved The Fabric of the Cosmos even more.
In showing the state of the art of unified theories, The Elegant Universe explained alot of physics with unsurpassed clarity. Yet, there were discoveries I had read something about in other books that The Elegant Universe did not discuss, and I longed for Brian Greene to bring his powers of explanation to these subjects too. (I even wrote him an email saying so).
The Fabric of the Cosmos answers my longing in abundance.
This book not only covers relativity but also the long debate about Mach's principle and what "space" means. It covers quantum mechanics, but goes further by taking on the debate regarding observers and measurment, and provides the clearest, most understandable discussion of quantum entanglement (the "EPR paradox) that I have ever seen in print or any other format. The chapters on cosmology are equally great, and the final sections bring the work on unification and string theory right up to the moment.
I can't say this is an easy book, perhaps a little easier than
The Elegant Universe, but definitely a challenge. It is worth it. By the end, the poetry of the universe is yours to behold.
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127 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book I've been waiting for. March 4, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I happened by chance on The Elegant Universe two years ago during one of my "learn the newest" in physics stretches. I'd read many popularizations to that point, but none could hold a candle to The Elegant Universe. The chapters on relativity and quantum mechanics were, arguably, the clearest treatment
of these subjects ever written, and that really says something since this subject has been written about endlessly. I knew little about string theory at the time but found Greene's encapsulation of
the theory to be among the best popular science writing I've read.
So I was so happy when I saw he had a new book
out. Having now finished it, I am even happier. It is
a phenomenal successor to The Elegant Universe; in some ways
I liked it even better.
Greene's crystal clear and never
a dull moment prose are out in force, with his uncanny ability to anticipate the questions the reader (or at least
this reader) will have regarding material one page, and answer them on the next. There were so many times I asked myself "what about this"? only to find it answered a paragraph later.
The material is also carefully arranged so that you can read it along three different strands, corresponding to different levels of background/interest. In the first strand, you can read the book, skipping the sections which Greene has indicated to be more difficult. In the second strand, you can read all sections, as I did, gaining an even greater appreciation of the ideas and related tricky points. In the third strand you can also read the endnotes which contain very detailed versions of the material covered in the main book, sometimes making use of equations.
What I especially liked about The Fabric of the Cosmos, was the choice of subjects.
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91 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 Stars--A Gem and a Gift February 21, 2005
Format:Paperback
As someone who has taught high school and college level physics for close to 30 years, I can say with some degree of experience that this is, hands down, the clearest, most informative, and most exciting book on physics I've ever had the pleasure to encounter. About 5 years ago I would have given almost as high accolades to Green's first book, Elegant Universe. Now, however, Fabric of the Cosmos, in my opinion, has jumped ahead.

Fabric of the Cosmos is very far from being a simplified version of The Elegant Universe, as someone in this bulletin board has said. Instead, Fabric of the Cosmos is so disarmingly clear and so cleverly crafted in its use of analogy and argument, that it does indeed present an easier read than The Elegant Universe. But the material covered in Fabric of the Cosmos is very different from Elegant, and most notably, the text dives head first into some of the trickiest, most absorbing, and far-reaching issues that physicists have struggled with for a very long time. Many of these difficult questions--is space real? what is the nature of quantum entanglement? why does time seem to go in a fixed direction? what happened at the very moment of creation? can string theory be tested? -- are avoided by mainstream physicists and too difficult to be taken on by most science journalists in anything but a superficial treatment. The highly crafted writing in this book, however, cuts through the forrest of complexity with such ease, that the reader who is not already well versed in physics, does not realize the gift he or she is given by a presentation that is clearer than I would have ever thought possible.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Joy of theoretical Physics
Each time I read a Brian Greene book, or a Lisa. Randall book, I understand a little more about quantum mechanics and string theory. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Kathleen T. Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind = Blown
Prepare to have your mind blown in a simplistic breakdown of complex theories and quantum physics. This book is truly brilliant and will expand your mind in fantastic ways.
Published 16 days ago by Harrison Stamathis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good deaL
Published 17 days ago by nicholas braemer
4.0 out of 5 stars Could be a lot shorter and still have the same content.
I'm a no fill, frills kind of guy. I like to get right to the point without all the blah blah that seems to just add legnth to a book. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Dustin G. Haugh
5.0 out of 5 stars ... read all of his books and I'm not even good at
I want to read all of his books and I'm not even good at science
Published 23 days ago by Keith E. Zeff
5.0 out of 5 stars Thumbs up
A great read.
Published 1 month ago by Nathan McGuire
5.0 out of 5 stars It's like sheets made of a trillion thread Egyptian cotton.
If you do not know how to sew, if you can't thread a needle, then I suggest you learn how to darn a patch on the knee of your favorite jeans before you read this.
Published 1 month ago by B Kind
5.0 out of 5 stars like mine, know about it in a simple and ...
For the uninitiated in physics, this book is a bible. Can't thank Mr Greene or show my gratitude enough. Read more
Published 2 months ago by ashish shukla
5.0 out of 5 stars Very pleased.
Exactly what I needed. Quick delivery! Very pleased.
Published 2 months ago by Ronald D Brooks
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Nice
Published 2 months ago by Jaque Davis
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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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God playing dice?
It's true that when Einstein said, "God doesn't play dice with the universe," he meant that he didn't believe in quantum mechanics, which included the "uncertainty principle." But Einstein has been proven wrong on this. Every experimental prediction based on quantum theory... Read More
Jul 14, 2008 by Bret |  See all 8 posts
Anything new?
This book has TONS of new stuff.
Look at my review.
Jun 11, 2012 by Path Integral Master |  See all 2 posts
Space-time.
It's always great when a book gets you thinking this much, imho. :o)

I'm not a physicist, but I think the concept of space-time (the two being different aspects of the same quality) came to Einstein when he realized that the speed of light (c) is the cosmic speed limit for anything with an... Read More
Apr 1, 2008 by Smorgy |  See all 5 posts
should i read the book first? or watch his movie?
I'd read the book first. I read Greene's other book, The Elegant Universe," a few years ago and I'm now most of the way through this book. I decided to take a break and watched the first hour of Greene's Nova special. The flaw of television: It has to compress complicated science even more... Read More
Dec 18, 2007 by Sharif Durhams |  See all 5 posts
The box with the red and blue lights question.
You got the wrong idea about the experiment. Yes you are right on your math. However, the key is the math does not agree with the result of the experiment, and thus proves that the boxes are not pre-programmed.

The result of the experiment is that when they both open different doors randomly,... Read More
May 29, 2009 by P. Lau |  See all 4 posts
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