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The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory [Hardcover]

Brian Greene
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Feb 1999
Today physicists and mathematicians throughout the world are feverishly working on one of the most ambitious theories ever proposed: superstring theory. String theory, as it is often called, is the key to the Unified Field Theory that eluded Einstein for more than thirty years. Finally, the century-old antagonism between large and small - General Relativity and Quantum Theory - is resolved. String theory proclaims that all of the wonderous happenings in the universe, from the frantic dancing of subatomic quarks to the majestic swirling of heavenly galaxies, are reflections of one grand physical principle and manifestations of one single entity: microscopically tiny vibrating loops of energy, a billionth the size of an atom. In this brilliantly articulated and refreshingly clear book, Brian Greene, one of the world's leading physicists, relates the scientific story and the human struggle behind twentieth-century physics' search for a theory of everything. Through the masterful use of metaphor and analogy, THE ELEGENT UNIVERSE makes some of the most sophisticated concepts ever contemplated viscerally accessible and thoroughly entertaining, bringing us closer than ever to understanding how the universe works.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd (25 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224052993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224052993
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.8 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 238,422 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 in 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 and quantum mechanics have to be explained as well. In this Brian Greene does a very good job, giving one of the best explainations 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 the style (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

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Sets a standard that will be hard to beat. --George Johnson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
61 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deals clearly with its subject, but..... 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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107 of 114 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than Hawking's Book 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faith Is Evidence Of Things Not Seen 29 Sep 2009
By demola
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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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks criticality. Good book nontheless. 30 July 2005
Format:Paperback
This is a prime example of the notoriety gained by string theorists for overblowing the results of their theory. The claims in 'The Elegant Universe' maybe true, and if they are, I will be the happiest person in the world.
At the moment however, there is no reason to believe this. Some of the so-called 'successes' of string theory are debatable at best, others may well be mathematical coincidences, and of course, you can never get past the fact that there is no experimental evidence of strings whatsoever. Moreover, string theory is part of a class of theories increasing in number that are decidedly 'Un-Popperian' (i.e. unfalsifiable), simply because many of the predicted effects of the theory are at energies way beyond anything we are likely to measure.
The problem with Brian Greene's book is that it mentions none of this. It is not at all critical of the theory. At best, it talks of String Theory as the 'only game in town' (The most popular game yes, but certainly not the only one), and at worst, it talks of String Theory as if it has been proven already! This is not what I expect of a science book; even one designed for the layman.
Having said all this, the book was enjoyable to read - I even read the followup. By all means, buy it and read it, and you will have a good time I assure you. For an objective view of the future of research in theoretical physics however, 'The Road to Reality' by Roger Penrose is a much much better book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A Noble But Rather Exhausting Attempt to Explain the Weirdness of...
Brian Greene has an undoubted ability, as evidenced by his popular science TV shows, to explain the bizarre world of modern physics to the layman. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Roysta Boysta
5.0 out of 5 stars mind blowing
I am good at science but after reading this I realised that everything I learnt at school is either redundant or just plain wrong. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Danny
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to the subject, but still difficult to understand
This book by Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics, is focussed on string theory. Regrettably, it's a book I wasn't able to finish because I found it got more and... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Roger
3.0 out of 5 stars Average
It's an ok read, but I would have preferred a bit more academic scientific input. Good for someone who has no physics.
Published 1 month ago by Ray Coster
3.0 out of 5 stars First half is great
The first half of this book, explaining relativity and quantum mechanics, is absolutely great. Best book for the layperson I have ever read on the subjects. Read more
Published 1 month ago by G
3.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't face reading it
Bought it, put it on the shelf for six months, gave it away to a charity shop. Having already been defeated by the much shorter, A Brief History Of Time, I decided to quit while I... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Discerning Reader/Viewer
5.0 out of 5 stars A good foray in to deeply complicated subjects
If your physics education stopped at high school but you have enough interest to really give it some thought, I would say this book is perfect starting point to get somewhere near... Read more
Published 2 months ago by PJ
5.0 out of 5 stars Depends on your Scientific Knowledge!
This book is highly informative and an extremely intriguing read for someone like myself, Though I would not recommend this book to someone who has not had a higher Scientific... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lauren
4.0 out of 5 stars Great way to be familiar with string theory
I have been interested to learn about string theory ever since I came to know about it in discovery channel. Read more
Published 4 months ago by sixthgalaxy
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book with some fascinating insights
This is one of the best written popular physics books I have ever read, no doubt - comparable even to the legendary 'Brief History of Time'. Read more
Published 4 months ago by chez198
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