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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  7,038 Ratings  ·  267 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
ebook, 416 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Mariner Books (first published September 19th 2006)
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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
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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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mohamed al-Jamri
هذا هو أحد أفضل كتب الفيزياء التي قرأتها، بل تستطيع أن تقول أن به الكثير من الفلسفة وعلم الاجتماع أيضًا وهو محفز على التفكير ويضعك في الصورة الكاملة لما يحدث في عالم الاكتشافات الفيزيائية

يبدأ الكاتب بمقدمة قوية ولكن حزينة، فهو يقول أن التقدم العلمي في مجال الفيزياء لم يشهد أية طفرات لمدة 25 سنة، أي منذ 1981 عندما طرح آلان جوث نظرية التوسع الكوني حتى 2006 سنة طباعة الكتاب. وهذا على خلاف الطفرات العلمية التي كانت تحدث كل 20 سنة تقريبًا منذ القرن التاسع عشر. إن أحد أسباب هذا التخلف العلمي هو ظهور ت
Mohamed IBrahim
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

صرخة جريئة من عاام فيزياء نظرية مرموقة حول الأزمة الحالية للفيزياء النظرية، رغم ان الأمور قد تغيرت كثيراً منذ كتابة هذا الكتاب.

نسخة إلكترونية
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
M.L. Rudolph
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Dr M
Sep 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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:
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the first two thirds of this book mildly interesting, but the last third of it was excellent. I'm thinking it might be a good idea to start reading this book from about chapter 16, read until the end, and then go on from the actual beginning.
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dan Falk
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author addresses two different, but related issues in the book:

-Superstring theory's currently dominant position. This part is fairly technical at times, although it avoids equations altogether and I think it's well-explained. They key issue dealt with is that superstring theory, however fascinating and mathematically elegant (and there is a long history of mathematically elegant hypotheses being wrong), is just a hypothesis - that it is neither proven nor the only candidate theory out there
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was prepared not to like this book, but I enjoyed it very much. The author does a very good job at summarizing the state of physics in 2007 and the influence of string theory as of that point in time. He does an excellent job of explaining physics and does a good job of putting string theory into its proper context. He starts off with the five major problems haunting physics (measurement problem, where do constants come from, grand unified theory, and two things) and explains what they mean in ...more
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: David
Shelves: grbpp
(4.0) Enjoyed it when I realized it wasn't trying to teach us physics

Smolin's book is really a history and philosophy of science book. In that, it's really good. Very open and honest about the state of physics and the degree to which string theorists had been bending the rules and expectations of science...getting dangerously close to religious science.

I had earlier some expectation that I'd 'understand' string theory (little did I know it was essentially a 10^500-size space of theories, rather
Teo 2050
~7.5h @ 2x.

(view spoiler)
Jul 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: science students and people with a general interest in theoretical physics
Shelves: pop-sci
This book was a much needed counterpoint to all the popular science books that talk about string theory. Smolin provides a lot of information about this supposed "Theory of Everything" that was previously hard to find as a member of the general public. His diatribes against the sociology of the field are harsh but at the same time, respectful of all the hard work that has been put into string theory. His opinion on the matter is a breath of fresh air.

Possibly my favourite part of this book is t
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  • Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law
  • Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions
  • The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces
  • Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe
  • Higher Speculations: Grand Theories and Failed Revolutions in Physics and Cosmology
  • The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes--and Its Implications
  • Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang
  • Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth
  • The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
  • The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design
  • From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time
  • Wrinkles in Time
  • The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity
  • Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun
  • Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation
  • The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn
  • The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins
  • The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics
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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“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.” 15 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.” 13 likes
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