Natalie's Reviews > The Trouble With Physics

The Trouble With Physics by Lee Smolin
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's review
Apr 25, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: science
Read in April, 2011

I first heard about string theory when I watched The Elegant Universe on television, coincidentally at the same time as I was reading the book of the same name. This really kick-started my amateur interest in physics and cosmology. I understood abstractly the problems with string theory and just assumed that eventually we would develop better instruments and experiments, and then test the theory's predictions. The Trouble with Physics critically evaluates the string theory research program, clarifies the specific problems and pitfalls within its claims, and thoughtfully debates whether the last 30 years have been harmful to the field of theoretical physics as a result.

There is no technical maths in this book (good!) but the concepts are quite involved, and I found myself having to re-read parts occasionally. On the whole though, it was very accessible and Smolin writes in an engaging, no-nonsense way. The book is a broad survey of string theory, and also includes some history of relativity and quantum theory (as do all books of this kind, but here it's brief and Smolin doesn't go into extraneous detail). It was also refreshing to read something critical and deeply analytical, and I would be interested to read a direct rebuttal from the string community.

I would have given 5 stars but didn't enjoy the final section as much as beginning/middle of the book. Although insight into the sociology of the physics and academic worlds is of merit, it just wasn't what I was looking for from this type of book. Maybe I was just fatigued at this point? In any case, for the physics alone it gets 5/5 and I strongly recommend it to other amateurs. Where a lot of popular science books are broadly positive, Smolin's voice here is very refreshing.

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