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The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory Paperback – 3 Feb 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (3 Feb. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009928992X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099289920
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

To write a book to explain in simple, non-mathematical terms what superstring theory is is not a simple task. In The Elegant Universe Brian Greene, a physicist who works in the area, does a very good job. Superstrings are a theory of particle physics that lays claim to being the ultimate "Theory of Everything", merging Einstein's relativity and quantum mechanics into an understanding of the physics of the very small and very large in the Universe. Hence to understand superstrings relativity, quantum mechanics have to be explained as well. In this Brian Greene does a very good job, giving one of the best explanations of relativity I have read in the process. Superstring theory is still very much in its infancy and The Elegant Universe does not claim that all the problems have been solved, in fact a point is made of pointing out all the present deficiencies of the theory.

Probably not a book for the very beginner but anyone who has read popular accounts of particle physics and relativity should gain a lot from reading this book. In places not an easy read, not for style reasons(which was generally very easy) but simply for the difficulty of some of the concepts involved. Superstring theory may or may not be the theory of everything but this book will certainly tell you what we think we know so far. Definitely recommended but don't expect to read it in a weekend. --Simon Goodwin


"Develops one fresh new insight after another... In the great tradition of physicists writing for the masses, The Elegant Universe sets a standard that will be hard to beat" (New York Times Book Review)

"Utterly absorbing...a brilliant achievement. An accessible, equationless account of strings, explaining why they are generating so much excitement among their devotees. Greene's achievement is to make us feel at home in the chillingly abstract world of strings and to convince us that we must take it seriously" (Sunday Telegraph)

"As rewarding as it gets... A thrilling ride through a lovely landscape... A compelling human saga" (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

"Compulsively readable...Green threatens to do for string theory what Stephen Hawking did for holes" (New York)

"[A] tour-de-force of science writing...peels away layers of detail and reveals the stunning essence of cutting-edge physics" (Shing-Tung Yau, Harvard University; Fields Medalist, winner of the National Medal of Science)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Peter Dzwig on 5 Oct. 2000
Format: Paperback
Explaining superstring theory to the lay reader is a massive task. Not only does Greene achieve this task with amazing clarity and vision he takes the reader through an introduction to quantum theory and general relativity (as well as some of their extensions) on the way.
This has to be one of the best written science books of recent years. I hasten not to add the word "popular" in case would-be readers imagine that this is a book for beginners, which it is not. If you have a scientific background you will find this book both accessible and exciting.
On the downside Greene explains superstring theory as if it has to be the Grail of the quest for a Grand Unified Theory. He could have done a lot more to explain that superstrings are not necessarily the only route to such a theory and that there are other interesting and elegant theories, too. But then Greene himself is a major player in superstring theory and one who has made significant contributions to the field. Superstrings are a theoretical concept which far from being proven, add a great deal of complexity without producing too much in the way of experimental evidence to support the model. But - and this is a big but - they do offer at least one unifying theory. Whether or not it is the only (or perhaps most elegant) approach capable of achieving that goal time alone will tell.
Definitely recommended for readers with some background.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By demola on 29 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback
I think the title is a big misnomer. Unlike Carlos Calle's "Superstrings and Other Things" this book is about string theory though I'm not sure "theory" is a deserving adjective and perhaps "concept" or "conjecture" might be more apt. The first third of the book is beautiful - Greene's explanation of relativity really got me on a high. The problem starts when he posits string theory as the beginning of the theory of everything, the theory "nature" demands we "must" use to answer all existential questions or at least something to that effect. Given that strings are these incredibly small things (close to a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a metre) that there is virtually no hope we can ever detect them that's a lot of faith Greene demands. But faith he demands nonetheless because the mathematics is so beautiful. This smacks of religion.

In string theory there could be as many as 11 spacetime dimensions because this is what is required to make the mathematics work. The mathematics embodies very complex structures like Calabri-Yau shapes that cannot be imagined or experienced because they are outside our 3 dimensional ken and anyway are so tiny we can't detect them. How do the physicists know they are there then? My reading is that since we can't disprove their existence that means they are likely to be there. It's like just because you think your dreams are real when you are having them they must be real. I just couldn't get rid of the idea that string theorists were just making things up, devising complex mathematics and models to fit the results much like accountants cook the books so they can report a predetermined profit figure. I thought science was about demonstrable repeatable experiments.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Jun. 2000
Format: Paperback
I purchased "The Elegant Universe" on recommendation from my PhD studying brother. Since then it has won the Aventis Prize for Science. Brian Greene's lucid writing style instils into the reader a good understanding of the basic concepts of Einstein's relativity and Quantum Mechanics. The author then builds upon this in such a way that the reader can begin to understand the subtle differences between the two theories and appreciate the need for a more fundamental theory, strings in this case.
A fine explanation of string theory then follows which left me absolutely amazed that a book could so clearly and succinctly explain to me the foundations of one of the most complex theories ever attempted in science. Indeed, this book is so well written that my interest in popular science and the progress of string theory is now greater than ever.
I have read a lot of popular science books based on physics and cosmology, but not has ever left me quite so fulfilled and happy with the tricky concepts involved as this one. A truly fine work. Now that I have finished this book, I can't wait for the scientists to finalise string theory so Brian can write the sequel!
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112 of 119 people found the following review helpful By G. ADAIR on 18 April 2001
Format: Paperback
I read Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time - Illustrated Edition" last year, and enjoyed it up to a point, that point being quantum mechanics, at which juncture I lost plot entirely. Some months later I regrouped and struggled on to the end. (Of course, the stuff about black holes was fascinating, as you'd expect from a Hawking book).
And so this year I chose "The Elegant Universe" as the next instalment of my quest to keep 'tuned-in' with physics and cosmology.
Different class, mate.
The first third of the book explains the current pillars of modern physics - Einsteins Special & General Relativity, Newton's Gravity, Quantum Physics, and the incompatibilities between them - and I have to say I learned more from those hundred pages than from Stephen Hawking's entire book. Brian Greene has what Hawking lacks - the ability to TEACH, not just tell.
I write speculative fiction as a hobby, and when I read a book such as this I tend to fold down the corners of pages which contain some interesting idea or other that I fancy turning into a story; I must have folded down every second page, such is Greene's verve for bringing home the wonder (and sometimes the absurdity) of nature's laws as we currently understand them.
The middle chunk of the book explains how String Theory could unite the inconsistencies of such laws, and Greene does a sterling job of explaining (to a semi-layman such as myself) the whats, hows, whens, wheres and whys.
And then we really got down to business; the last chunk delves into quantum geometry, the finer points of 'Calibi-Yau shapes' and other abstract concepts, and at this point I began to lose my grip on reality.
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