Top critical review
11 people found this helpful
Very highly recommend this book if you have some physics background
on November 26, 2010
I bought Peter Woit's book about two years ago. In fact I bought it together with Lee Smolin's book on a similar subject, and read them both at the same time. I loved this book, and I was at best lukewarm about Smolin's book. Then I waited two years to write a review, because I wanted to wait until two of my sons learned enough physics to read these books too. You see, I am a Ph.D. in physics, and these books are not written for me first and foremost, they are supposed to be for laymen. I was sure that neither book was close to being understandable by someone who does not know any physics. But I had high hopes that they would be somewhat understandable, and even entertaining to someone with an elementary introduction to physics. In that I was not disappointed, and I learned a lot from my sons' points of view of what they though of these two books and particularly the ideas in them.
Based on what my sons thought, I suggest that you read chapter-1 of "Not Even Wrong", and then skip the next 9 chapters, and start reading again on Chapter 11, unless of course you have an undergraduate degree in physics. In doing so, you skipped roughly half the book, but the stuff you skipped is not at all essential to understanding what was discussed in the second half of the book. I think Peter Woit made a serious mistake in organizing the book. He should reduce chapters 2-10 to appendices, and he should refer to them when relevant.
The material presented in Chapters 11 through 19 are extremely well written, and it was well understood by my sons (ages 16 and 18). They found it very intriguing, amusing, and even sad and scary at times. After reading the book, they had a million questions for me to answer about the physics content as well the human content. Before they read the book, I had some (perhaps not very much) worries that they may be turned off from science (at least from physics.) Quite the contrary, their scientific curiosity was much increased. (The older son is now a college freshman studying physics of all things.)
I highly recommend Woit's book to all bright and scientifically minded high school and college students. If you know nothing about physics however, don't waste your time. Woit tries to teach you some physics on the fly, but most of it will fly over your head. Similarly, I also recommend the book to all scientists if you have not already read it. In this case, the chapters 2-10 might even be useful.
And Smolin's book? Well, that's another story. If you don't have a Ph.D. in physics and a keen interest in politics, I don't recommend it. Maybe I will write a review about it some other day.