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The Little Book of String Theory (Science Essentials) [Hardcover]

Steven S. Gubser
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Feb 2010 Science Essentials

The Little Book of String Theory offers a short, accessible, and entertaining introduction to one of the most talked-about areas of physics today. String theory has been called the "theory of everything." It seeks to describe all the fundamental forces of nature. It encompasses gravity and quantum mechanics in one unifying theory. But it is unproven and fraught with controversy. After reading this book, you'll be able to draw your own conclusions about string theory.

Steve Gubser begins by explaining Einstein's famous equation E = mc2 , quantum mechanics, and black holes. He then gives readers a crash course in string theory and the core ideas behind it. In plain English and with a minimum of mathematics, Gubser covers strings, branes, string dualities, extra dimensions, curved spacetime, quantum fluctuations, symmetry, and supersymmetry. He describes efforts to link string theory to experimental physics and uses analogies that nonscientists can understand. How does Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu relate to quantum mechanics? What would it be like to fall into a black hole? Why is dancing a waltz similar to contemplating a string duality? Find out in the pages of this book.

The Little Book of String Theory is the essential, most up-to-date beginner's guide to this elegant, multidimensional field of physics.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (28 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691142890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691142890
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.1 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 78,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"The Little Book of String Theory by theoretical physicist Steven Gubser puts into words the abstract maths of some of the most challenging areas of physics, from energy and quantum mechanics to branes, supersymmetry and multiple dimensions."--Nature

"Princeton theoretical physicist Steven S. Gubser opens The Little Book of String Theory with a simple--and highly accurate--sentence: 'String theory is a mystery.' You won't get very far into this excellent book before you'll be agreeing with him completely."--Washington Post

"Gubser does a masterly job of introducing string theory in simple terms and without using math. His goal is not to convert people to the cause but to help them better understand the ideas. Cars on a freeway, the vibration of piano strings, and buoys in the ocean are among the examples from everyday life used to explain difficult concepts. This concise yet clear introduction to a conceptually difficult topic is recommended for lay readers in physics and for popular science collections."--Library Journal

"This is an excellent introduction to string theory for those who are looking for a highly academic explanation. . . . For those new to string theory, this book is full of information and humor and will help readers see the universe in an entirely new way."--ForeWord

"You will probably finish the book more confused than when you started, but in the best possible way: with profound questions and a desire to learn more."--New Scientist

"What sets this book apart is that it has been written by one of the foremost experts on the subject. Many of the analogies from everyday life used to explain concepts from string theory are both original and very communicative. . . . I would recommend The Little Book of String Theory even to seasoned researchers in the field. This is a thought-provoking book. With explanations offered in simple words, imagination can fly faster and perhaps lead to new and unexplored areas in the quest for the fundamental theory."--Times Higher Education

"The Little Book of String Theory succeeds in its mission to carry readers through the tangle of ideas to the intellectual loose ends that physicists love."--Fred Bortz, Philadelphia Inquirer

"But how do we non-mathematicians sort frayed ends from tight theory? Read Steven S. Gubser's book. It's clear, concise, turns formulas into words and leaves readers informed, if still incredulous, at the ability of great minds to imagine the unimaginable."--Leigh Dayton, Australian

"There is much in this book I did not understand, but I've seen plenty of popular physics books over the last few years. This is the first one in a long time that I both wanted to read and finished; it's full of fresh material."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution blog

"With Gubser as our guide science starts to seem less like the exclusive domain of the brainy, and more like a window into the universe that is open for everyone."--Glenn Dallas, San Francisco Book Review

"[T]his book is a concise survey of advanced ideas in particle physics and string theory. But it is also true that every single concept is explained in a very simple and accurate way. This makes the book, while without errors from a physicist's point of view, accessible to a wide range of readers."--Farhang Loran, Mathematical Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"This is an engaging and concise introduction to the main ideas in string theory. Gubser gives us a quick tour of the basic laws of physics as we understand them today, and then demonstrates how string theory seeks to go beyond them. He serves as an artful and attentive guide, as the reader explores the mysteries of quantum mechanics, black holes, strings, branes, supersymmetry, and extra dimensions in the pages of this book."--Juan Maldacena, Institute for Advanced Study

"Steve Gubser has written an engaging and thought-provoking account of what was achieved in physics in the last century and how physicists are seeking to go farther in the ambitious framework known as string theory. This is one of the most thoughtful books on this much-discussed topic, and readers will find much to ponder."--Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study

"This book offers a very nice short introduction to some of the basic ideas and implications of string theory. Gubser knows his subject."--John H. Schwarz, coauthor of Special Relativity: From Einstein to Strings

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The epistle of the string theorist 3 Jan 2012
The actual title of this book, 'The Little Book of String Theory', is a misnomer. The book is not little - either in form or in scope. Steven S. Gubser is obviously a very clever man, an expert in his subject, committed to the ideas of string theory and to imparting them to the uninitiated. But herein lies the problem. To me (the unwashed non-physicist), the problem of how to grasp and take on board the ideas of string theory is secondary to the issue of why (and whether) I ought to accept its validity in the first place. It is, after all, a theory - a very counterintuitive one. In my view, Gubser spends too little time explaining the broader issues and why string theory should be seen as a plausible explanation for them. Instead, his text gives weight to my suspicion that physicists in fact dream up theories, and even invent particles, primarily to solve their equations, with scant regard for the real world. Presumably string theory is actually backed up by a body of experimental evidence, but I did not think this was made sufficiently clear. It felt to me that Gubser had put his faith in these ideas and become immersed in them without asking himself the bigger questions - and that now he was evangelising me to do the same. I felt as I do when listening to St Paul's epistles: dissatisfied that behind this forcefully expressed argument lie a plethora of unsubstantiated assumptions.

I gave up the book about halfway through when I had become too disengaged to continue and was no longer able to follow the explanations. The first couple of chapters were the most accessible and the most useful, but the book became progressively more difficult and less engaging. I think that readers with some knowledge of physics and a preconceived willingness to 'believe' in string theory, may enjoy it more than I did.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth or Beauty? 4 Dec 2012
This is an excellent attempt to put into words a highly abstruse mathematical subject. There are many pauses for reflection and recapitulation and the author even brings in has passion for rock climbing! Since the book was written the tell tale signs of a 'Higgs-like' particle have been discovered but as yet there is no evidence whatsoever for the truth of supersymmetry and its myriad array of 'sparticles'. Are all these superstring and M-brane theories ever going to be proven experimentally or are they just flawed beauties? Having read this book carefully I have a sense that the author is just whistling in the wind. Still I'm sure this book will repay a second and third reading. Hence five stars!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too ambitious in so short a book 17 May 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Gubser tries to cover a very difficult subject too fast and with inadequate foundations at each stage for the next step of the exposition to be built on. By the final chapters I was skimming to extract what I could from the mass of loosely understood material. Compare this to Schum's 'Deep Down Things' which uses continual reference to a number of images and examples to reinforce the development of the ideas.
But it was worth buying the book for one insight: "Time running at different rates in different places IS gravity"
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3.0 out of 5 stars Typeface is a bit too small 21 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The typeface of the hardcover book is a bit too small to read comfortably. Maybe I should have twigged that from the title of the book -- I thought it was referring to the tiny size of the strings rather than the printing font.

As other reviewers have noted, this short and nontechnical book cannot and does not pretend to give a solid introduction to string theory. It seems that string theory is not yet ready for a popular-science exposition. There are interesting insights even though, at many points in the exposition, the authors states honestly that much of the key parts of the theory are too difficult to describe in a popular science book. Fascinating in bits, and if you hold the book close enough and have plenty of light the font is certainly read-able.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An introduction to string theory 30 Jun 2011
This book starts with a brief introduction to the basic laws of physics, and the search for an ultimate theory to explain the physical reality. When the author starts describing the string theory, things get complicated. The reader must bear in mind that this is not an easy field to appreciate since it involves multi-dimensions of space and one time dimension; string theory has 26 dimensions, and superstring theory has 10 dimensions. Besides this, the fundamental particles exist as different vibrations of strings in multi spacetime. It is hard to envision how a four dimensional space would look like, and it would be even harder to appreciate the subject given the amount of mathematics that goes into constructing the theory. Although the book doesn't involve any mathematics but the author does his best to make the difficult subject interesting.

A brief summary of the book is as follows: In string theory, the myriad of fundamental particle types is replaced by a single fundamental building block, a string. These strings can be closed, like loops, or open, like a hair. A string is infinitely thin and has an infinitesimal length of 10e(-34) meters. As the string moves through time it traces out a tube or a sheet (the two-dimensional string worldsheet). Furthermore, the string is free to vibrate, and different vibrational modes of the string represent the different particle types. The particles known in nature are classified according to their spin into bosons (integer spin) or fermions (odd half integer spin). The bosons carry forces, for example, the photon carries electromagnetic force; the gluon carries the strong nuclear force, and the graviton carries gravitational force. Fermions make up the matter like the electron or the quark.
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