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Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics Paperback – 7 Jun 2007


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (7 Jun 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099488647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099488644
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.9 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 193,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Highly readable, accessible and powerfully persuasive" (John Cornwell Sunday Times)

"Will embolden other string critics to speak up and encourage talented young physicists to pursue other lines of research" (John Horgan Prospect)

"Compulsive reading" (Roger Penrose)

"It's a call to arms" (New Scientist)

Book Description

'Peter Woit's book Not even Wrong is an authoritative and well reasoned account of string theory's extremely fashionable status among today's theoretical physicists...I regard it as an important book' - Professor Sir Roger Penrose, author of The Road to Reality.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 2 May 2011
Format: Hardcover
This came out the same year that Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics (2006) and it carries the same message, namely that particle physicists need to move away from string theory because it is beginning to look like it isn't valid science. The main point in both books is that after two or three decades of work on string theory--or superstring theory, M-theory, brane theory, etc.--string theorists are unable to make any predictions that can be scientifically tested.

The deep problem for the reader of either book is that only particle physicists themselves can know whether progress is being made. For the rest of us we have to accept what they say on--dare I use the word?--faith. Without empirical support string theory is, as Woit has it, "Not Even Wrong" (the phrase is from Wolfgang Pauli).

The Preface and the first two chapters up to page 29 are eminently readable and interesting. Starting with Chapter 3 "Quantum Theory" the book becomes difficult and continues to be more than challenging until Chapter 13 "On Beauty and Difficulty" beginning on page 193 where it becomes readable again. The problem? With or without mathematics it really is impossible to make particle physics understandable to a general readership. Woit tries to make QM and string theory clear without equations and I give him credit for trying. But it is the nature of modern science but especially of something like particle physics that it is impossible to really grasp the subject without years of study.

Perhaps the beginnings of trouble for particle physics began in May, 1963 when P.A.M. Dirac famously said "It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment." (p. 195) This view, shared in some respects by Einstein, is the source of the problem today.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 23 May 2009
Format: Paperback
This is clearly an important book - it is a critique of String theory, which has apparently failed to produce verifiable predictions in the quarter centuary since the establishment of the standard model. But it is very difficult to evaluate the truth of the author's arguments.

The author argues that particle physics has gone down a blind alley. There are an infinite number of possible string theories, with the very few predictions the theory actually makes, disagreeing with experimental results. Additionally, because String Theorists hold the tenured positions at the heights of academic physics, they are able to ensure that this is the only game in town.

From the negative review on this page, it is clearly a controversial argument.

Following his descriptions of the maths of string theory requires a lot more than my (Engineering degree level) maths, and it does not read as well as Fermat's Last Theorem for the interested lay reader. Given the difficulty of the subject (and string theory requires post doctoral research for physicists to achieve an acquaintance with the subject) the author does write a readable book. (At least, I finished it, and managed to follow the main arguments, even if I didn't understand the maths being referred to.)
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. B. Cook on 30 Jan 2008
Format: Paperback
From a marketing standpoint, it's probably a pity that Dr Woit has targeted this fairly technical book at a non-technical audience, and that he has included discussion about the failure of string theory. The first section is focussed on explaining mainstream solid particle physics, and this gets fairly abstract in places, but it contains some deep physical insights about the handedness of the weak force, the problems of the Standard Model, and so on that you won't easily understand from any other book. The second half is focussed on the failure of string theory, which is very upsetting because those guys keep hyping abject speculation based on wishful thinking and "groupthink must be right" arrogance.

However, no real harm is done. You can easily skip over the quotations from Richard Feynman, Sheldon Glashow, Gerard 't Hooft and many others attacking string theory for being non-falsifiable religion, and learn about the basic concepts behind the maths of quantum field theory.

Then you can easily find more technical material as you need it. The author has some more mathematical stuff on his university home page, and the book has extensive references for further reading.

The book makes you familiar with the basic way in which gauge symmetry works and how it connects to particle interactions. A Lagrangian equation is written to describe a field, a path integral is then used to evaluate the action of that Lagrangrian. In practice the path integral, which sums over all possible ways an interaction can occur in spacetime, is expanded into a series of terms each being a power of the strength or coupling constant of the force determining the interaction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 April 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've been following the arguments made by Peter Woit against String Theory for quite some time, and it's a pleasure to be able to have them all in a single volume. His arguments are very persuasive, and his writing clear and to the point. This, however, is not a book that the general audience will find easy to follow. The earlier chapters recount the canonical story of the success of the particle physics in the 20th century, and if you are familiar with that story you can safely skip these chapters. The later chapters are the really interesting ones, but unless you have at least some familiarity with theoretical particle physics and the modern mathematics, you might find yourself lost. Even with that caveat it is still possible to appreciate the central theme of this book: theoretical particle physics took a wrong turn somewhere in the late 70s and the early 80s, and has never been able to recover from this. Woit is appealing in this book to the practitioners in the field to be more honest with their assessments of the direction in which the theoretical particle physics is headed, and the lack of any meaningful progress.

Unfortunately, I am very sceptical of the potential impact of this book on the field of particle physics. The Emperor is naked, but he is perceived as irrelevant as well.
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