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The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes Next

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  9,087 ratings  ·  347 reviews
In this groundbreaking book, the renowned theoretical physicist Lee Smolin argues that physics — the basis for all other sciences — has lost its way. For more than two centuries, our understanding of the laws of nature expanded rapidly. But today, despite our best efforts, we know nothing more about these laws than we knew in the 1970s. Why is physics suddenly in trouble? ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published September 19th 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Ami Iida I have lots of harvest in super string theory what I don't know.
My imagination from quantum mechanism theory and the universe
spreads. …more
I have lots of harvest in super string theory what I don't know.
My imagination from quantum mechanism theory and the universe
spreads. (less)

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Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone seriously interested in science
An interesting and well-written book. Smolin started out wanting to write about the sociology of research funding in the US. He is extremely worried about the fact that it has become difficult for young researchers to get money to pursue novel ideas, with most funding concentrated on a small number of mainstream projects which are regarded as "safe". In many fields, this has already been taken to the logical extreme, with nearly everything focussed on one single direction. As a researcher (albei ...more
Manuel Antão
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, favorites
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

All Much Ado about Nothing: “The Trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin

“The Weinberg-Salam model requires that the Higgs field exist and that it manifest itself as the new elementary particle called the Higgs boson, which carries the force associated with the Higgs field. Of all the predictions required by the unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces, only this one has not yet been verified.”

In “The Trouble with Physics” by Le
Mar 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-sort-of
If you are looking for an uptodate discussion of the controversy of string theory and whether it's a cult or just a hoax, The Multidisciplinarian has posted a nice essay complete with lots of further reading: The Trouble with Strings. One of the things Smolin discusses is the sociology of string theory. The Multidisciplinarian comments:

A telling example of the tendency for string theory to exclude rivals comes from a 2004 exchange on the sci.physics.strings Google group between Luboš Motl and W
Nov 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to David by: DJ
It is well known now, that a very large cadre of talent in theoretical physics has been working on string theory. The theory solves a lot of problems in physics, and Lee theoretical physicist Lee Smolin has published a number of papers on the subject. The problem is that, the theory does not make any predictions that might allow it to be "falsifiable". So, according to my definition of a theory--a scientific idea that is supported by much observational evidence from a number of different approac ...more
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Manny got me to read this book (admittedly it has taken me a while to get around to it) not so much with this review here, but rather with the trouble I was having with reading another book on string theory that had maths that was well over my head and that I abandoned in despair. I have a negative gut reaction to string theory – it sounds like crap to me – and so books that confirm my gut reaction are going to be praised. However, this will be the last b ...more
May 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone remotely interested in science
I first came across The Trouble with Physics when Richard mentioned Manny's excellent review in a comment on my review of The Elegant Universe. I left The Elegant Universe feeling invigorated about physics [1] but sour on string theory.

Simply put, for as elegant as string theorists claimed that string theory was, something (everything?) about it seemed... not quite right. There was a "too good to be true" element to it, but beyond that, it did not seem that there was a good layman's explanation
Feb 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As to the content of this exceedingly excellent examination of the state of modern theoretical physics through the eyes of a deeply-learned and concerned practitioner, the reviews by Manny and Rob are both superb and cover all of the bases with flair.

If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd run with the math skills I had garnered back in the day together with a speculative bent honed whilst seated, chin-in-hand, upon the toilet, and try to go all the way to the end as a bona fide physici
Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is possibly the best physics book I've ever read. Most physics books acknowledge that there are certain unknowns such as dark matter or certain aspects of string theory, but they all cleverly hide the real, and somewhat desperate, situation with contemporary physics. It's rare to find someone in any field who is willing to say "despite appearances, we don't know really what's up." Smolin does exactly that. He argues that we are in the slowest period of innovation in physics of at least the ...more
Richard Thompson
Apr 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: physics
It is very hard in writing a popular book about physics to strike the right balance between rigorous explanation and appeal to a broad audience. From the favorable Goodreads reviews, it is evident that a lot of people think that Smolin has struck the right balance here, but not for me. There is just too much hand waving in this book for my taste. He trots out scientists and their theories like characters in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical -- "Hi, I'm a Jellicle Cat, and this is what I do, dum, dee ...more
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Trouble with Physics: A Plea for Diversity in Quantum Physics
In my hunger to learn more about quantum physics, which happens every 4-5 years, I decided to tackle some more difficult books. I started with Brian Green’s The Elegant Universe (1999), one the most well-known proponents of String Theory among non-physicist enthusiasts. It’s a fascinating and ambitious book that tries very hard to explain mind-boggling concepts like bosonic string theory, Calabi-Yau shapes, flop transitions, mirron
M.L. Rudolph
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
2006. Whoa. Not for the faint of heart. You gotta love your fermions and your gluons. And you need to appreciate a good brane.

It took me two months to work my way through this book. Pecking away. I'm not a scientist, by far, and I plodded through determined to see what I could learn. I'm glad I did.

It was good to read that the world of physics is just as screwy as any other corporate grouping. Suffering from groupthink, careerists, and ladder-climbers, just like everywhere I ever worked. Apparen
Cassandra Kay Silva
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This book should actually be called the trouble with string theory :) Most of you know that I am a massive Brian Greene fan and absolutely love my world "stringy" even superly so. I find string theory to have an energy and power that sparks the imagination and excites the theorist in all of us. Having said that I tried to take an objective view when reading through Smolins work and felt that he laid out his arguments (not necessarily against it but against the way that it has been latched on to ...more
Here's a book that is good but could be better.
It has the general aim of explaining the current state of fundamental physics, first in terms of the physics itself and second in terms of how it is practised (with particular reference to the USA).


See the complete review here:
Dr M
Sep 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: physicists
Smolin's polemic is often misconstrued as a criticism of superstring theory as a physical theory. Indeed Smolin is harsh on string theory, but not because it is a bad theory per se, but because the string-theory community provides a prime example of the problem Smolin is really addressing, namely how we do theoretical physics in the first place. Smolin argues that theoretical physics (at least where foundational issues of quantum physics, gravity etc. are concerned) is at a crisis where nothing ...more
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone looking for an overview of modern physics
Shelves: popular-physics
It is obvious that Lee Smolin cares deeply and sincerely about the future of his field of physics. I read this with the intent to get a balanced view of string theory (having already read Brian Greene’s gushing pro-string theory book ‘The Elegant Universe’) but got so much more. Smolin’s book offers a deeper look at scientific history, culture, and philosophy as well.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who:

* wants an overview of the current state of physics (problems, culture, focuses, exper
Justin Tapp
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
To qualify my review a little better, before I read this book I read:
Black Holes and Baby Universes (Stephen Hawking)
The Universe in a Nutshell (Hawking)
The Grand Design (Hawking)
The Hidden Reality (Brian Greene)
The Fabric of the Cosmos (Greene)
The Elegant Universe (Greene)

Lee Smolin's style is similar to Greene's in that he describes a chronological history of the development of string theory and gives simple analogies to explain complex topics. But his analogies are simple and more brief. Of t
Bishnu Bhatta Buttowski
I thought Physics wasn't able to pickup girls anymore. [laugh][laugh]

Nevertheless, the ending of the book was indeed something.
I didn't expect some ethical and sociological aspect of Physics from this book. All I thought about was the technical aspect which covered almost two third of the book.

Progression of the book:
The book started off with the background of scientific revolution that kicked off since early era of Hippocrates and Aristotle explaining the theoretical ideas they put forward
Jun 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. I've been curious for years about what all the fuss was about, regarding string theory. I've watched a few shows on TV that had string theorists that tried to explain it, like Brian Greene, but they always seemed to just talk around it with flowery language, never explaining the nuts and bolts of how exactly it was the "theory of everything". Lee Smolin does a good job of showing that the emperor has no clothes. If he is correct, and his writing has that "ring of truth" ...more
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I came out of reading this book with a pleasing illusion that I understood something of the state of modern physics. Smolin’s style worked for me in explaining things well enough that, for once, I wasn’t left boggling and having to reread pages over and over again to cram the concepts into my head. Perhaps it helps that he’s not an inveterate supporter of string theory, and can explain where it doesn’t work as an explanation for our universe and why — sometimes, it helps to know where concepts b ...more
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
My rating of this fine work reflects mostly my own shortcomings in making my way through a subject that quite often was beyond my comfort zone in physics. Spoiler alert: the science has hit some formidable brick walls in terms of being able to support many years of expanding theoretical efforts with real-world experiments.

Having been written before the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider, the book leaves us hanging on what has been predicted by current theory to be discovered by the machine.
Erica Clou
The beginning of the book was about physics and was maybe a 3 as it varied between being the same old, a little above my head, and kind of a bummer. The rest of the book was a challenge to change the way we think about science in general and physics in particular. I found that section at the end more interesting.
Dec 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I could talk a lot about the ideas in this book, but I'll try to keep this a review of the book itself as much as possible.

I was predisposed to like this book, since I agree with many of the popular-level criticisms of string theory (not testable, not well-defined and distinct, over-appeals to mathematics and 'aesthetics', etc.). I've heard this book described as a polemic or as an unfair attack on string theory, and that's not quite right. He pulls no punches, certainly, but he makes his case w
Rizwanur Rahman
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting read!! Not from physics background, but understood almost everything what the author wanted to convey.
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone interested in science and overview of contemporary physics
Recommended to BetseaK by: Manny, David, DJ (indirectly, via their reviews)
This was a worthwhile and well-intentioned critical overview of the issues troubling the field of contemporary theoretical physics, with the emphasis on the ones concerning the string theory (or rather, theories). Being among those laypersons who find the string theory somehow detached from reality and therefore hard to understand, as obvious from my review ( of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, ...more
Mar 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book attempts to explain why physics is in such a sorry state, and why no new revolutionary ideas have been put forward in the past few decades – certainly nothing that can be compared with relativity or quantum physics. John Horgan said the same thing about all branches of science in The End of Science, but Smolin focuses on physics only, and he partly blames it on the string theory being fashionable and stifling other approaches to solving physics’ fundamental problems. Smolin, a first-ra ...more
Amar Pai
Jul 07, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: smarter or more patient people than me
If I had to summarize this book in one sentence, I would say: nothing, because I didn't understand hardly any of it. It's not the author's fault, as his pop-science explanations of recondite scientific theories and phenomena (supersymmetry, gauge theory, quantum electrodynamices, string theory obviously) seem about as clear as they could be. I just didn't have the energy to pore over the chapters trying to understand things. From what I gather, string theory is a fashionable & mathematically bea ...more
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This is an important work for anyone interested or concerned with the current state of science and funding. Beyond the fact that I learned more about theoretical physics and string theory here than any other pop-sci book before, I couldn't get enough of this one. I'll never be able to grasp the hardcore numbers involved in physics of this scope, but I can appreciate the theories and ideas involved. Smolin did a better job explaining it to me than anyone I've read before, and he doesn't even ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: popular-science
The book is essentially a critique of string theory, although that really only provides a framework for a broader and deeper discussion of the state of physics and science, the philosophy of science and problems in the academia. Smolin’s writing is enjoyable and I kept nodding by myself enthusiastically through most of the book. However, at times it may feel that the themes of the book are not quite connected, or they are discussed only superficially. Smolin does not go into much detail about so ...more
Meg Briers
Wow. As part of one of my new year's resolutions to kick my irrational fear of physics (even though I study maths and computing...?), I picked up this book, and I am very glad I did, because it revealed the true beauty of Physics that I've been trying to ignore for the past few years. Smolin wrote in a way that made me feel that I understand what was going on (even though I probably didn't) and the nice interludes about the philosophy of science were very up my street. I will continue to pursue ...more
Dan Falk
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Few aspects of theoretical physics capture the public imagination – but string theory, which states that the universe is composed of tiny, vibrating strings rather than point-like particles, certainly has. The theory has spawned dozens of popular books and even a three-hour PBS TV series. It continues to attract the attention of many of the brightest graduate students in theoretical physics, as well as the funding agencies that keep their research programs humming.

Lee Smolin has a problem with t
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Lee Smolin is a theoretical physicist who has made influential contributions to the search for a unification of physics. He is a founding faculty member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. His previous books include The Trouble with Physics, The Life of the Cosmos and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity.

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3 likes · 2 comments
“Some string theorists prefer to believe that string theory is too arcane to be understood by human beings, rather than consider the possibility that it might just be wrong.” 23 likes
“But what is equally important, and sobering, is how often we fool ourselves. And we fool ourselves not only individually but en masse. The tendency of a group of human beings to quickly come to believe something that its individual members will later see as obviously false is truly amazing. Some of the worst tragedies of the last century happened because well-meaning people fell for easy solutions proposed by bad leaders.” 19 likes
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