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The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory Hardcover – February, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 872 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (February 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393046885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393046885
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (872 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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