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The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory Paperback – February 29, 2000
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
An introduction to the state of the art in string theory for the layperson, via a thorough review of relativity, and a summary of quantum mechanics.
A layperson with a long standing interest in astrophysics, but delving into string theory for the first time. I discovered Greene's "Elegant Universe" through his entertaining hosting of the wonderfully produced Nova series of the same title.
I didn't feel i was missing too much by reading the kindle edition. the numerous diagrams read fairly well in monochrome. It would have been nice to more easily jump back and forth between endnotes (why don't they make these clickable!?) but for the most part it works well as a linear read.
It's the supreme challenge of books of science written for the layperson (certainly ones with such mind-bending concepts as this one) to speak to the level of a perhaps unknowable student. Greene admirably rises to this challenge, but (for my part) with occasionally inconsistent results. Some explanations seem unduly drawn out or redundant, while others feel glossed over. The discussion of relativity for example, seemed repeated ad nauseum, while some things that were newer to me/harder for me to digest, like the nature of calabi yau spaces or the differences between the 5 string theories, left me feeling that my understanding was far from complete. In fairness this could well be due to the depth and complexity of the things being discussed and the limitations of this reader's own mind, but overall the amount of ink spilled didn't always seem to match the complexity of the idea being explained. On the whole the moments of redundancy, were appreciated, making it an easy read to take in chunks as a bathroom reader or while strap-hanging. Finally, in such a cutting edge field, a ten year old publication can already feel outdated at times, but this is exciting more than it is disappointing, and spurs one to investigate the latest news in the field.
Greene is at the top of his writing game as he gives first hand accounts of when he was at the top of his game scientifically, collaborating in significant breakthroughs in the field. I think developing one's own understanding of science mirroring the historical development of humanity's understanding of science is a great way to learn, and Greene has enough a sense of history and colorful quotes throughout to help make this happen.
on the whole:
a highly recommended read for those with a burgeoning interest in string theory and/or in humanity's latest understanding of the earliest moments of the universe as we know it.
When I got to the string theory parts I had to read and read again.