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The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality Paperback – February 8, 2005
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Written as a further investigation that was begun with his book The Elegant Universe, in The Fabric of The Cosmos, Dr. Greene leads the reader on a expedition into the darkest corners of the universe exploring the fundamental building blocks of time and space, reality and imagination, and the arrow of time and why it appears to us to have but one direction. A String Theorist, Dr. Greene's explanations weigh heavily in that direction, but he does make inroads into other theories such as Loop Quantum Gravity and their position in the entire scope of research going on today.
As new experiments are conducted at facilities such as The Large Hadron Collider at CERN or at Fermilab in this decade, it will be interesting to see if Dr. Greene's hypotheses come to fruition or if entirely new paths may open in the search for a Unified theory of the quantum realm and Gravity. In the meantime, if you have an interest in Theoretical Physics, but lack the formal training necessary to understand it on a mathematical level, I recommend Dr. Green's book.
I've enjoyed his books very much and feel wiser, not stupider, after reading them -- not always the case when I finish a book meant to explain physics to the layman. Highly recommended. I only wish this was required reading for every liberal-arts student.
It is just that the concepts are absolutely mind blowing.
That he kept my interest up and running through the book, and whetted my appetite for more, is a tribute to Brian Greene.
I read the book on my Kindle, and my only complaint there, is that the formatting for the diagrams could have been a bit better. It would have been easier to follow the flow of the text with well formatted figures.
At this point, however, the book is a little darted. It is still a must read for anyone interested in the nature of reality or quantum theory.