Russ's Reviews > The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
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's review
Jul 27, 07

bookshelves: non-fiction, physics, science
Read in July, 2007

I can't claim to understand everything, but this book does a very good job at explaining the complete strangeness of the universe at its most basic levels. The book is laugh-out-loud funny in spots, both because of Greene's ability to illustrate difficult concepts in clever ways and because the things that science have discovered are so strange.

If the standard model of the 20th century is hard to comprehend, string theory with it's curled up dimensions is even harder. Most of string theory is unproven, and the latter section of the book deals with its more speculative aspects (and I found that the weakest part of the book). But I found this to be a good introduction to difficult concepts without too much advanced math.

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Kelly (new)

Kelly I couldn't hang with this one for some reason, but I may come back to it. Here's my problem *now* -- string theory is coming under more and more how soon will this all change again?

Russ You mean to tell me you expect a theory to be true??? I don't keep up with physics well enough to know, though one of the things I liked about the book was his willingness to talk about IF the theory was true. I also found the beginning of the book, with its coverage of relativity and quantum mechanics, to be very good. So--since you are so up on it--what are the prevailing counter theories? Any reading to suggest?

message 3: by Kelly (new)

Kelly No deep reading here; I just remember reading an article (WSJ? Time?) within the last 6-9 months that indicated that there were getting to be too many holes/problems for the theory to be sustained...

Andy You folks sound pretty interested here, which I think is great!! I love quantum physics, so maybe I can help a bit. First, if you haven't already, read (or at least check out) Greene's follow-up book "The Fabric of the Cosmos." It came out in 2004 and covers the even more bizarre ways that string theory has evolved recently, mainly into "M" theory. String theory is still very viable, but it's also still relatively 'young' so it's going thru a lot of growing pains. It's extremely difficult math but it's astonishly elegant, a term physicists use to descibe things in Nature so beautiful that they seem to appear 'perfect.'
So second, if you're still interested, let me recommend another book (kind of a 'history' book now!). Yes, string theory can look like a mess. But this is exactly what was happening in the 50's and 60's when physicists were searching for "quarks" - particles that would confirm the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (or QCD). They were found, and the theory is now fact. The history of this quest was really well documented in a book called "The Hunting of the Quark," (1987) by Michael Riordan. The entire, almost-finished Standard Model looked hopelessly lost until the brilliant Richard Feynman developed this 'theory.' I have to say, that in a blinding moment of revelation when my brain first gripped the reality of QCD, I cried. It was an 'elegant' moment for me.
String/M theory has even more power to move the soul, (and explain everything) because it has actually come down to physically exploring the very real realm of creation itself. And that's bound to be complicated - but oh so elegant.
Hope this held your interest!

Siriss I read both of Greene's books as well and found them exhilarating. It was quite by accident too because my ex-girlfriend who is a tree-hugging nature buff showed it to me. You would never guess it was her style. I think she just saw "Elegant Universe" and thought she'd be interested. I'll definitely take up your suggestion for that "Hunting of the Quark".

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