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171 of 185 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our Mathematical Universe is one of the finest popular science books I've ever read, December 6, 2013
This review is from: Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality (Hardcover)
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Books that discuss the nature of reality have become a cottage industry lately. Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose and now Max Tegmark have all attempted to explain the physicist's view of the ultimate nature of reality to a popular audience. Penrose's book, with its advanced mathematics, is geared towards those with a technical background but the trend has been to simplify the science and make these books anecdotal and gentle. Tegmark seems to have discovered the sweet spot between hard core science and a fun read, using the word "geeky" as a red flag any time a technical detail is about to be broached. His language is reader friendly and easy to understand. Tegmark is a good writer and anyone that has seen him on television (Through the Wormhole, for example) knows that he is funny and well-grounded in popular culture. Our Mathematical Universe is a nearly perfect example of a popularized science book.

Years of reading science books have produced a personal pantheon of the finest I've ever come across. There are several aspects of Tegmark's book that have placed it amongst the three finest popular science books I've ever read. The other two books are Albert Einstein and Leopold Infield's The Evolution of Physics and Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy (Commonwealth Fund Book Program). The first book, The Evolution of Physics, is still the clearest exposition of classical and (relatively) modern physics ever written, despite its age. It remains the most authoritative, concise and profound discussion of the source of Einstein's world-shattering ideas, and has never been surpassed as a book written by a great scientist for a popular audience. Kip Thorne's book combines personal reminiscence and scientific exposition with an elegance and depth that makes it my choice as the finest modern popularized science book. Thorne proved that you can write about science in an engaging manner without sacrificing either intelligence or necessary relevant technical detail.

The attributes that raise Tegmark's book amongst the very finest in the genre are its engaging writing style, its willingness to discuss technical details about recent trends in cosmology without sacrificing either intelligence or clarity, and its almost subversive depth. Tegmark has a flair for discussing some really knotty topics like the significance of the cosmic microwave background, Einstein's theory of gravitation, the geometry of curved space, mathematically precise cosmology, dark matter and dark energy without losing the reader in a labyrinth of confusing and difficult scientific details. Tegmark teaches without ever being pedantic and he entertains while he clarifies and enlightens. There aren't many science writers who can write about such abstract and craggy subjects as cosmology, multiple multiverse levels, and mathematics as the ultimate nature of physical reality with Tegmark's wit and ease. If you are a fan of reading popularized science books, Our Mathematical Universe is one of the finest I've ever read and definitely worth your consideration.
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Showing 1-10 of 91 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 31, 2014 3:43:55 PM PST
Thank you. Your review of this book stands as a model of how reviews of books like these should be written. I look forward to receiving and reading Our Mathematical Universe.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2014 5:01:26 PM PST
Thank you. My intention was to convey some of the excitement and interest the book evoked. if I've managed a little of that I'm gratified.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2014 6:46:45 PM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 1, 2014 2:02:18 PM PST
I received my doctorate in molecular biology. HIV/T-Cell surface homologies. I've been reading about science for more than 50 years. It appears that you feel that knowing science means agreeing with your opinion about this book. That's about as unscientific an attitude as it is possible to have.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 9, 2014 2:47:22 PM PST
SteveT says:
If you can believe that in millions of universes everyone in those universes has superglued a banana to their head and have rushed outside shouting "OINK OINK BOINK" whilst in a equal number of different universes they have rushed outside, also suitably attired with banana, but shouting "OINK OINK HOINK" then multiverse theory espoused here is for you. In trillions of universes trillions of William of Ockhams are turning in their graves.

This is not Science or even scientific speculation but none sense based on confusing a axiom of pure logic ( if P implies Q and P is true then Q is true e.g if inflation theory is true then multiverse level 1 must be true) with scientific thought in which both P and Q must be both grounded in reality for any statement connecting them to be true e.g if Q is not true it is not implied by P and P is not negated.

In this instance multiple universes are neither proven or provable so they are neither implied by the corresponding theory neither does their non-existence negate the corresponding theory.

Reality is not a manifestation of logical axioms neither for that matter is it a mathematical construct

To paraphrase Einstein if your equations do not match reality you change your equations rather than invent new realities.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2014 8:42:51 AM PST
I agree with that. The key issue for me as a reviewer is not the state of physics in 2014. I am reviewing a book written by a scientist. Is it a good book? In my opinion it's a very good book. When I am asked to review the state of physics I will do that. The nature of some of the comments and reviews here seems more like expounding an agenda rather than reviewing a book. One can review a book without agreeing with all of its viewpoints. Here at Amazon some folks believe an unhelpful review means those that disagree with their opinions or that if an author espouses an idea they disagree with then the book must be bad. Not a very scientific attitude in my opinion. Scientists must remain open minded until an hypothesis becomes untenable. Tegmark is careful to label the ideas that emanate from String Theory as currently configured as speculative. Because he discusses these ideas does not make the book a bad one. I am a doubter about most of these speculations but I refuse to condemn a book because it dares to discuss them. What's next: suppression of ideas?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2014 8:51:23 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 11, 2014 9:05:51 AM PST
The problem is that this book as about as much to do with real physics as it does with Russian literature. Therefore it cannot, by any definition you choose, be anything but a horrible book, which is what it is - one of the most ridiculous I've ever seen. The author is a no-talent, shameless self-promoter, so it is not surprising that such a book should issue from him. I am a physicist, I know.

On a deeper level, this sort of propaganda that passes as science is becoming ever more widespread. A person with any conscience and some regard for the history of physics is honor bound to point this out. It started with "The First Three Minutes" and has gone downhill from there.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2014 9:45:08 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 11, 2014 1:18:08 PM PST
SteveT says:
I would agree that within the context of your definition of a review that this is indeed a good book and well worth reading.

However i feel your definition of review if far too narrow and that a reviewer must also point out what they see as serious and fatal flaws in the books arguments. More especially if they feel they alter the whole tenure and thrust of the book ( it is marketed with the title and USP of Our Mathematical Universe with the definite implication that this is a scientific theory/Hypothosis, which in my opinion it is not) and negate the positive aspects of the book that, in this instance, you have succinctly adumbrated. To give a facetious and extreme example you could not review Mein Kampf and just say its a grammatical correct autobiographical narrative of the development of a German ex-soldiers thoughts after the first World War and then précis these thoughts. You would have to say where you think the authors ideas are just plain wrong, which of course in this example would be everywhere.

Also to say something someone says is wrong is not the same as saying it should not be said.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2014 7:58:09 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 27, 2014 7:39:07 AM PST
In your opinion, which you are both entitled to, the author's ideas are wrong. I have no quarrel with that. However, the book is not a propaganda tract. It is not a book of dogma, with arguments designed to sway you, which you suggest by using the term "the book's arguments" in the same paragraph as Mein Kampf. It is a descriptive book in which the author clearly labels as speculative several of the ideas that have sprung from string theory. He then elucidates those clearly labeled speculative ideas. He is merely one of many physicists who have written something similar: Hawking, Penrose, Randall, Greene, Susskind and the list goes on. They are describing the ideas that String Theory has suggested. To call that a fatal flaw making this a bad book that is unworthy of purchase or reading or (I suspect) of reviewing positively, strikes me as a reflection of your distaste for string theory. That's your opinion to which I say: of course, that's legitimate. But the book is clearly labeled as speculative by the author, it is certainly within the mainstream of early 21st century physics research (string theory is the major current theoretical research avenue for grants and employment) and I accept the book on its own terms.

Time will tell how string theory will fare. It may go the way of the 19th century aether. But I cannot consider as fatally flawed a book that describes the central research area in current physics simply because you don't like that theory. I reviewed the book not the theory. By your definition all of the books written by the physicists I mention above are fatally flawed and bad because they all engage in speculation adumbrating the ideas and concepts suggested by string theory. The theory may be bad (only time will tell) but simply describing aspects of that theory in a book is not a priori fatally flawed. This is not a narrow definition of a review, it is a fair definition.

My own opinion of string theory, which I was careful not to allow to interfere with my opinion of Tegmark's book, is that it is a mathematical formalism that cannot be falsified and that despite some of its clever manipulations of highly creative ideas and imaginative leaps of faith, it will hit a brick wall when it fails to make substantive predictions. That is my personal point of view. My skepticism, however, did not lessen my enjoyment of the book. I don't always agree with everything I read but that's not the ultimate criteria for enjoying a book. If I can enjoy a book even when I disagree with aspects of the ideas it describes, that speaks for the book. But I can separate the concepts described and the skill used in describing them. The latter is what I am reviewing.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2014 8:19:17 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Feb 11, 2014 11:13:52 PM PST]
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Review Details



Michael Birman

Location: Brooklyn, New York USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 542