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Three Roads To Quantum Gravity (Science Masters) [Paperback]

Lee Smolin
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 4, 2002 0465078362 978-0465078363 Reprint
The Holy Grail of modern physics is a theory of the universe that unites two seemingly opposing pillars of modern science: Einstein's theory of general relativity, which deals with large-scale phenomena (planets, solar systems and galaxies), and quan

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Editorial Reviews Review

It's difficult, writes Lee Smolin in this lucid overview of modern physics, to talk meaningfully about the big questions of space and time, given the limitations of our technology and perceptions.

It's more difficult still given some of the contradictions and inconsistencies that obtain between quantum theory, which "was invented to explain why atoms are stable and do not instantly fall apart" but has little to say about space and time, and general relatively theory, which has everything to say about the big picture but tends to collapse when describing the behavior of atoms and their even smaller constituents. Whence the hero of Smolin's tale, the as-yet-incomplete quantum theory of gravity, which seeks to unify relativity and quantum theory--and, in the bargain, to move toward a "grand theory of everything." Smolin ably explains concepts that underlie quantum gravity, such as background independence, the superposition principle, and the notion of causal structure, and he traces the development of allied theories that have shaped modern physics and led to this new view of the universe.

Although he allows that "it has not been possible to test any of our new theories of quantum gravity experimentally," Smolin predicts that a solid framework will be established by 2015 at the outside. If he's correct, the years in between promise to be an exciting time for students of the physical sciences, and Smolin's book makes an engaging introduction to some of the big questions they'll be asking. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The most obvious questions--e.g., "What are time and space?"--are nearly impossible to answer. Smolin (The Life of the Cosmos), professor of physics at Pennsylvania State University, offers "a report from the front" of the current "revolution" in theories of space and time. Aimed at beginners, this careful treatment of the search for a single theory that brings together relativity and quantum theory will draw in potential explorers. Illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Science Masters
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (July 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465078362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465078363
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #538,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lee Smolin earned his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard, then went on to teach at Yale and Pennsylvania State before helping to found the innovative Perimeter Institute. He is the author of The Life of the Cosmos and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
125 of 130 people found the following review helpful
The completion of a quantum theory of gravity (quantum gravity for short) is one of the most challenging problems in science in the twenty-first century. This theory aims at unifying Einstein's theory of general relativity for large-scale phenomena with the quantum theory for the micro-world, to get understanding of everything from space and time to matter and the universe. Lee Smolin, Professor of Physics at Pennsylvania State University, tells the story of recent and future research pursuing this theory for the intelligent layperson.
The author writes earlier chapters very understandably. The reader who knew nothing about the quantum gravity learns easily the following interesting things: There are three approaches to quantum gravity, i.e., the route from quantum theory (string theory), the road from the theory of general relativity (loop quantum gravity), and the path from fundamental principles. To do cosmology the classical logic demanding that every statement be either true or false is inadequate. A theory of quantum gravity has to answer about the nature of the information tapped in a quantum black hole. The search for the meaning of the temperature and entropy of a black hole is now leading to the discovery of the atomic structure of space and time. Etc.
In the middle of the book the author states that the style of these chapters will be more narrative than others because he can describe from personal experience some of the episodes in the development of loop quantum gravity. Lessons told are, for example, as follows: Science progresses quickly when people with different backgrounds and educations join forces. Einstein's example teach us that trying to invent new laws of physics requires not only intelligence and hard work but also insight, stubbornness, patience and character.
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58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice book on Quantum Gravity July 19, 2001
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I approached this book with great enthusiasm, hoping for a pedestrian treatment of loop quantum gravity (LQG). To be fair, most of this book is pretty good. Smolin writes pretty well, especially about relational quantum mechanics and how it relates to quantum gravity and cosmology. In addition, Smolin clearly points out why many relativists have issue with string/m-theory's lack of background independence.

I was, however, mildly disappointed in his discussion of the physical meaning of spin networks and loops and in his exposition of a possible synthesis of M-theory and LQG. Perhaps I overlooked it, but this book doesn't directly point out how you go from spin networks and spin foams to spacetime. But, you can figure it out... if you know enough general relativity and quantum field theory.

The appendix of this book is excellent! It provides many useful references to the literature.

All things considered though, this book is worth a read, especially to learn about the connection between spacetime, gravity, and quantum mechanics.

I originally rated this three stars. I recently reread the book and now want to give it four stars.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but no audience is ideally served June 4, 2006
As my title states, this book is very good, but with the significant caveat that no particular audience is ideally served by it.

If you are truly a layman, you may initially be pleased to find that the book has essentially no formal mathematics and the technical vocabulary isn't too extensive. Smolin himself says that the book is aimed at the "intelligent layman" and that "the reader who has not read anything previously on these subjects will be able to follow this book." However, the book tries to convey a meaningful understanding of some rather advanced (some would say speculative) physics in the areas of thermodynamics of black holes, loop quantum gravity, and string theory, and it does this in a manner which is philosophically sophisticated, with many fundamental questions being raised about the nature of space, time, and scientific theories in general. Moreover, despite Smolin's claim to the contrary, one can't adequately appreciate what the book is about without a basic (at least popular-level) background in quantum mechanics and relativity, which the book doesn't provide.

As a result, I anticipate that the true layman would find this book to be difficult going. Instead, a more realistic audience would be the "advanced layman" who has some prior familiarity with this subject matter, particularly the basics of quantum theory, relativity, the standard model, and cosmology. This audience (which includes me) would probably find the book to be quite stimulating and interesting, and would get a sense of what this advanced physics is all about.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light Reading On A Heavy Subject June 28, 2001
Three Roads To Quantum Gravity by Lee Smolin isn't the easiest highway to travel in the universe, but will be rewarding to anyone taking the journey. Smolin, currently a professor at Penn State [my alma mater :)], writes simply, but smartly about the biggest piece of unfinished physics business leftover from the 20th Century, the resolution of the conflicts between our theory of the large, general relativity, and our theory of the small, quantum mechanics. Smolin assumes an interested and educated reader and simplifies our trip by not doing long introductions to relativity and quantum mechanics. After introducing the idea of a theory of quantum gravity, Smolin spends the rest of the book laying out the 'three roads' of the title, spending slightly more time on loop quantum gravity, the 'road' he's spent the most time on. Although not as elegantly written or as detailed as Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, Three Roads To Quantum Gravity compliments that earlier book by coming at 'theory of everything' territory from a different direction. Since there is no AAA for physics, layfolks like myself should be glad that we have guides like Lee Smolin to direct us through the hidden regions of our universe.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good first reading about quantum gravity
A very good explanation of the existing theories for quantum gravity.
Writen in a way to understand the concepts without entering in mathematical formulations. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Ulrich Ringler
4.0 out of 5 stars Great
Smolin can be a bit tough to wade through at times but he makes his read something that you always want to arrive at the end point so he's hard to put down.
Published 2 months ago by rob0bOy
5.0 out of 5 stars An easy to read book about a complex subject!
As a layperson (and closet science geek), I really appreciated the author's straightforward and mostly non-mathematical approach to a difficult and incomplete new theory about... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mark Abrams
3.0 out of 5 stars Eh, it's ok
Lots of thoughts but I was looking for more evidence. Many analogies, stories and anecdotes; apparently, advanced physicists have a lot of car trouble to and from the airport.
Published 5 months ago by Will Fehringer
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting overview of the current events in bringing together...
Lee Smolin's books are always well-written and challenging. He tells the story as one who is in the midst of the action. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Steven T. Wolf
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun to Read
It's very nice to find a physics book that's both engrossing, and very well written. I believe that even if you didn't love physics, you would still find this fun to read.
Published 9 months ago by Adam Lemire
5.0 out of 5 stars Imagine the Universe
I highly recommend all the books written by Professor Smolin, and am especially grateful that text to speech is enabled on the Kindle Editions. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Liane J. Leedom, M.D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Mind-expanding and thought-provoking, like each of Smolin's books. An intellectual adventure. Made me a little sad that I wasn't smart enough to work on these kinds of problems,... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Ronald S. Wardrop
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely not for beginners
This book is written so poorly that trying to read it is like struggling a mile through 6 feet of thick mud. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Jim F
4.0 out of 5 stars An older work but still relevant.
An older work but still relevant. An excellent review of quantum theory and the sometimes opposing theories being discussed today.
Published 15 months ago by Joseph G. Lurker
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