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Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – February 24, 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
For the reviewer to say that "spooky action at a distance" is in Elegant, is also a factual error. He must be thinking of another book. This (huge) subject, entanglement, was not covered in the Elegant Universe as I know for sure, since in the past I have had to assign other books for these ideas. I might add that the discussion of entanglement in Fabric goes far ahead of any other since it proves Bell's theorem, without math! I didn't think that was possible! The main theme of The Arrow of Time which runs through Fabric, is not touched on at all in Elegant, nor are the questions of whether space and time are real or just ideas.
If someone is looking for a direct sequel to Elegent, this is not that book. Fabric is a monumental work of its own and should be read as such.
For other suggested readings: Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps, Janna Levin's How the Universe Got its Spots.
I loved The Fabric of the Cosmos even more.
In showing the state of the art of unified theories, The Elegant Universe explained alot of physics with unsurpassed clarity. Yet, there were discoveries I had read something about in other books that The Elegant Universe did not discuss, and I longed for Brian Greene to bring his powers of explanation to these subjects too. (I even wrote him an email saying so).
The Fabric of the Cosmos answers my longing in abundance.
This book not only covers relativity but also the long debate about Mach's principle and what "space" means. It covers quantum mechanics, but goes further by taking on the debate regarding observers and measurment, and provides the clearest, most understandable discussion of quantum entanglement (the "EPR paradox) that I have ever seen in print or any other format. The chapters on cosmology are equally great, and the final sections bring the work on unification and string theory right up to the moment.
I can't say this is an easy book, perhaps a little easier than
The Elegant Universe, but definitely a challenge. It is worth it. By the end, the poetry of the universe is yours to behold.
of these subjects ever written, and that really says something since this subject has been written about endlessly. I knew little about string theory at the time but found Greene's encapsulation of
the theory to be among the best popular science writing I've read.
So I was so happy when I saw he had a new book
out. Having now finished it, I am even happier. It is
a phenomenal successor to The Elegant Universe; in some ways
I liked it even better.
Greene's crystal clear and never
a dull moment prose are out in force, with his uncanny ability to anticipate the questions the reader (or at least
this reader) will have regarding material one page, and answer them on the next. There were so many times I asked myself "what about this"? only to find it answered a paragraph later.
The material is also carefully arranged so that you can read it along three different strands, corresponding to different levels of background/interest. In the first strand, you can read the book, skipping the sections which Greene has indicated to be more difficult. In the second strand, you can read all sections, as I did, gaining an even greater appreciation of the ideas and related tricky points. In the third strand you can also read the endnotes which contain very detailed versions of the material covered in the main book, sometimes making use of equations.
What I especially liked about The Fabric of the Cosmos, was the choice of subjects. Space and time are less esoteric
than string theory, and the theme of discussing breakthroughs
not just for the sake of science but, of equal importance, to assess their relevance
for our intuition about reality, was both fresh and thrilling.
The Fabric of the Cosmos covers an astonishing amount of new material, with the same in-a-class-by-itself
level of writing of The Elegant Universe. When you finish, the world looks different. How many books can you say that about? For me, not many.