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The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  2,584 ratings  ·  87 reviews
In his first book ever, the father of string theory reinvents the world's concept of the known universe and man's unique place within it. Line drawings.
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published December 14th 2008 by Little, Brown and Company (first published December 12th 2005)
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Nov 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Creationists, string theorists
I had seen many references to this controversial book - among other things, it's quoted approvingly in Dawkins's The God Delusion - but somehow I didn't get round to reading it until this week. Despite the fact that it's sloppily argued and poorly written, I'm embarrassed to say that I found it unputdownable. If you also enjoy watching smart, opinionated people shooting their mouths off in public, you may well have the same reaction.

Susskind, writing in 2005, confidently promises to explain Lif
Eric Malone
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the best physics/cosmology books I've ever read (read 3 times in fact). The most interesting parts, for me, were related to the Anthropic Principle and the discussion of the Landscape and Multiverse theories.

As I understood it the biggest issue was with the cosmological constant he discussed. If it were exactly zero, as Einstein believed, we would live in a "flat" (read: not-curved) universe and everyone would be OK with that. But better and better measurements show that the
May 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
This could be a useful book were it not written by a person who thinks so well of himself that he continually intrudes his unpleasant personality over the subject matter. Basically, he is telling us something that Hume told us, what, about 300 years ago, that the universe seems beautifully designed to allow life to exist (which leads some to propose the notion that it must therefore have been specifically and deliberately designed for us to live in) because we do in fact live in it. It's the onl ...more
Bill Leach
Apr 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
- A review of Feyman diagrams, propagators and vertex diagrams.
- The fine structure constant (alpha = 1/137 or 0.007297351) is an important constant of nature. It represents the probability that an electron will emit a photon as it moves along its trajectory.
- Feyman developed Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) which predicts the probability of any event based upon the propagators and the vertex diagrams, and upon coupling constants such as the fine structure constant.
- Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) i
Mallon Khan
How do you explain theoretical physics with no equations? lots of metaphors. Susskind runs the gamut on theoretical physics in the early 21st century. A whole new ballgame sine the 50's. Our scope of the cosmos has just widened to unprecedented proportions. Anything is possible, even *GASP* God!!

This is the guy that disproved Stephen Hawkins' theory of black holes. He went to write about it and wrote this book instead. Why? Because after a hundred years of sucking Newton's throbbing laws and lic
Anthony Tenaglier
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, science
This book was hard to put down because the presentation of string theory was excellent. It was easy to follow and understand with wonderful analogies and descriptions. Still not sure on how to wrap my head around the idea of "compactification" though, as this is such an important tool in string theory. How can dimensions be reduced to "practically" nothing and still call it something theoretical????

The book was great though, until there was a "hiccup" at the end with his bragging about how he p
Absolutely beautiful popular science book, right up the alley of someone who really wants to understand physics but lacks even the minimal basics. Susskind writes an easy-to-follow prose, a thing to be appreciated given the scope and importance of his subjects. Found some great references to other authors/works that I'd like to follow up with.
Charles Daney
Oct 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is quite a remarkable book. In 380 pages physicist Leonard Susskind gives a concise but easily understandable overview of a wide range of topics in physics and cosmology. The topics include basic quantum theory, quantum electodynamics (the theory of light, electricity, and magnetism), quantum chromodynamics (the theory behind nuclear energy), and general relativity (the theory of gravity). But that's just to get started on the main topic.

All of these topics are just the background for the b
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design by Leonard Susskind

"The Cosmic Landscape" is an informative, provocative theoretical physics book about how the world came to be the way it is. Dr. Leonard Susskind takes the layperson behind the scenes of an on-going debate among physicists and cosmologists; it's a battle between those who believe that the laws of nature are determined by mathematical relations, and those who believe that the Laws of Physics have been de
Micah Johnson
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
We've got 'The Rare Earth' and now we've got 'The Rare Universe.' This book details Leonard Susskind's theory that our universe one of 2-500X (2 to the 500th power) possible universes. He goes through some of the current theories on how 'pocket universes' form and exactly what would be possible in order for those universes to support life. 'The Cosmic Landscape' is his coined term for the multiverse, or the higher-dimensional space within which our universe was created and for the 'landscape' of ...more
Sep 12, 2008 rated it liked it
In this book noted physicist Leonard Susskind presents an emerging paradigm of cosmology based on modern string theory. This cosmology addresses the difficult question of why our universe appears to be so specially constructed. For instance, the "cosmological constant" of the universe appears to be the sum of two terms, which cancel to 120 decimal digits, yet fail to cancel in the 120th digit! What can be the explanation for such phenomena? Susskind then discusses developments in modern string t ...more
Jan 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
An interesting read, with some excellent explanations of physics. My quibble is how heavily the author leans on a flavor of the Anthropic Principle which seems to put the cart before the horse. In this Panglossian paradigm, the universe has been 'fine-tuned' for our benefit. It seems to me that reverses the logical cause and effect- since we have evolved in this universe, obviously the physical constants and laws must permit our existence. We are fine-tuned to our universe, not vice versa. The a ...more
Mεδ Rεδħα
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
When you think you have all the answers, it’s time to stretch boundaries. Physicists get to do this all the time, and their boundaries seem to have no end. Leonard Susskind in his book The Cosmic Landscape takes the reader along to share his perceptions of the ultimate boundary; the one about our universe. However, rather than stretching the boundary, it’s about the existence of a boundary itself that keeps that makes this book well strung together.

Most people consider the boundary to our univer
Boris Bereček
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is definitely worth reading. The ideas presented in the book really open up the views to the reader, whether they are right or wrong (I'm not competent to comment on that).
Last Ranger
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Mapping the Void:

This book is endlessly fascinating, frequently frustrating and is, hands down, one of the most difficult books I've ever read. The only reason I was able to get through it at all was Leonard Susskind's ability to clearly communicate complex ideas to the layman reader. Nonetheless, "The Cosmic Landscape" was a real chore to read. String Theory has been around, in one form or another, since the 1960s and has evolved into the many different forms we see today. Like Quark Theory, Q
Mar 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This book contains interesting theories of origin concerning the universe as a whole, as well as the various quantum particles the universe is understood to be comprised of. This book gives its theories free of the God-of-the-gaps explanation that: "God made it so", which I agree is completely sensible and expected in a real science book, since science deals with matters of the physical world and only its most necessary constituents, not matters of faith or philosophy.

The book contains many prof
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
THE COSMIC LANDSCAPE tells the intriguing story of the gradual acceptance by physicists of the implications of certain weird aspects of quantum mechanics, implications that entail an infinite multiverse or megaverse comprising endless populations of universes of every conceivable form and variety. Here, too, is the story of the battle between the proponents of Intelligent Design, who draw on quantum mechanics to try to show that our universe is uniquely fashioned for life and intelligence, and s ...more
James F
Jan 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Leonard Susskind is the co-discoverer of string theory, and has many other physics accomplishments to his credit. Unfortunately, being a good popular writer does not seem to be one of them. This book is somewhat rambling and repetitive; it does not explain string theory as understandably to the layman as Brian Greene, or the Anthropic Principle as well as Lee Smolin. There was very little new in this book that I hadn't read before. To be fair, though, the book was not intended simply as a popula ...more
Jan 24, 2010 rated it liked it
String theory has a multitude of solutions resulting in many possible universes each with its version of physics - the "cosmic landscape" is the solution space of all possible universes. Some are friendly to life and many others that do not. What is special about our universe? A potential answer relies on the anthropic principle that has gone out of fashion a few hundred years ago. Susskind and others incl Weinberg have embraced this - meaning our universe is one of many. From a layman's perspec ...more
Dec 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
Both the fundamental constants of nature (the mass of an up or down quark divided by the mass of an electron, the fine structure constant etc.) and the initial conditions of the Universe at the time of the Big Bang seem very fine-tuned for our existence; if they had been even slightly different, organized matter would not exist. Susskind says that perhaps there are many universes, each with its own constants, but only those where the constants are close to ours have beings like ourselves. I don' ...more
David Hammond
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is a wonderful review of 20th and 21st century physics. Susskind does an amazing job of explaining things so that a layman such as myself can understand them, or at least get a better sense of what truly understanding them would mean. Although I know that I will forget many of the finer points in short order, I at least feel that I now have a better grasp of many of the major advances in physics from the last century.

Susskind spends a great deal of time and energy in this book defendin
Ed Terrell
Jan 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
This is one of the better books that I have read about Quantum Mechanics. It combines theory, common sense with a touch of the historical developments in physics and cosmology. I have always thought that understanding the development of ideas was key to a better grasp of the facts and Susskind hits on this with all cylinders firing. He moves effortlessly from discussions of the standard model to virtual particles hopping into and out of existence, as well as those moving backward in time. From q ...more
Dennis Littrell
Aug 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Mostly an unconvincing justification of string theory

The first thing to note is Professor Susskind's insistence on using 14 billion years as the time since the Big Bang whereas most authorities today give 13.7 billion years. He does not explain why. That of course is a minor point. More troubling is Susskind's unconvincing and quixotic support of the anthropic principle in cosmology. He characterizes the principle as "really shorthand for a much richer set of concepts that I will make clear in t
Sep 11, 2007 added it
Shelves: own
Wasn't great but wasn't bad. Everything in the book was put into good wording for breakdowns and it's obvious that he's not blowing smoke. There were 2 weak points. One is that the chapters tend to ramble and become incredibly dry. He usually brings up something simply to tell you that it's in another chapter. My main problem was that it never actually goes into the concept of string theory and intelligent design. I can see how a physicist would think he addressed the topic but it's really strin ...more
Dan Martin
Okay, it would be unfair of me to give this any sort of ranking due to the simple fact that I understood about five percent of it. W-bosons, quarks, photons, and all the other particles of the universe that I will never grasp are right up there with mathematics for me - completely over my head. That aside, the five percent I did understand was awesome. Like, for example, the idea that String Theorists are constantly looking for that one unique, elegant theorem that explains why we exist, what ar ...more
Scott Mckee
Mar 28, 2013 rated it liked it
The illusion of intelligent design is hardly mentioned except for the author stating that it's the law of large numbers (of universes forming on the cosmic landscape) which is enough to account for our finely tuned universe supporting life. Yet Dr. Susskind has the good sense to reveal his fleekness by referring to God as "she". He asks the question, "If the universe is intelligently designed by a supernatural being, who designed the designer?" Wow! Never heard that one before! The answer, based ...more
May 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
In describing the universe, Susskind really sums the book up best himself: "A Landscape of possibilities populated by a megaverse of actualities."

And on the question of God: "I have no need of this hypothesis."

Without a more technical knowledge of the mathematics involved, I feel like Susskind can only give us a mere glimpse at a far more astounding Landscape that theoretical physicists are be able to see.

No one, at least to my satisfaction, can yet answer the question, "Why Something rather th
Aug 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who love physics without any formal education on the subject
My favourite science book of all time. Definitely knocks Warped Passages out of the water when it comes to how well written it is and how well explained the topics are! I gotta say, Leonard Susskind is my idol and I hope to work in the string theory field of physics one day so I may be bias, but the way he explains the rolled up dimensions is phenomenal! No equations! Except one minor one somewhere... but it was fairly simple. If you're curious about modern science and advanced physics but don't ...more
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a very good book. Susskind is a good story teller, able to lay on the heavy duty scientific theory, the implications for its meaning and his own biography as a physicist. I enjoyed several aspects of the book, particularly the argument that we live in one of several universes, that the universe that we live in follows only one of an infinite number of possible laws, and the anthropic principle which evaluates the conditions for life on a planet, solar system or universe. Very good stuff ...more
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Leonard Susskind is the Felix Bloch Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stanford University. His research interests include string theory, quantum field theory, quantum statistical mechanics and quantum cosmology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an associate member of the faculty of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Phys ...more

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