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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 (108 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Jun 2004
Now with a new preface (not in any other edition) that will review the enormous public reception of the relatively obscure string theory made possible by this book and an increased number of adherents amongst physicists The Elegant Universe "sets a standard that will be hard to beat" (New York Times Book Review). Brian Greene, one of the world's leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of eleven dimensions, where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter from the smallest quarks to the most gargantuan supernovas is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy. 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 the large and the small-General Relativity and Quantum Theory-is resolved. String theory proclaims that all of the wondrous 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 of a billionth the size of an atom. In this brilliantly articulated and refreshingly clear book, Greene 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 Elegant 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: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (8 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393058581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393058581
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.3 x 3.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,325,062 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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


A] well-written account—without equations—from the forefront of cosmology and physics. -- American Scientist, March/April 1999

An admirable job of translating a wholly mathematical endeavor into visual terms. -- Washington Post Book World, Marcia Bartusiak, 7 March 1999

As rewarding as it gets....A thrilling ride through a lovely landscape. -- Los Angeles Times

Brian Greene...makes the terribly complex theory of strings accessible to all. -- Publishers Weekly, 11 January 1999

Compulsively readable....Greene threatens to do for string theory what Stephen Hawking did for black holes. -- New York

Everyone who is curious about the horizons of theoretical physics—past, present, and future—will enjoy this book. -- Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study

In the great tradition of physicists writing for the masses, [Greene] sets a standard that will be hard to beat. -- New York Times Book Review, 21 February 1999, George Johnson

[A] beautifully crafted account of string theory...a delightful; read for the professional. -- David M. Lee, professor of physics, Cornell University

[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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deals clearly with its subject, but..... 5 Oct 2000
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faith Is Evidence Of Things Not Seen 29 Sep 2009
By demola
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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110 of 117 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than Hawking's Book 18 April 2001
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply great
Excellent book, easy to follow and would recommend to both the casual reader as well as those, like myself, studying physics.
Published 8 days ago by Joshua Kyle Marsh
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to Read, Quality book
Amazing book. Simple to understand, yet not too simple as to be condescending. Clear metaphors of complex physics problems that allow anyone understand the concepts regardless of... Read more
Published 24 days ago by Damo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by JESUS BERMEJO
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost anyone can read and understand this book
One of those books you can't put down. Easy to read, a little effort needed to understand but all you need is patience, a little imagination and trust in carrying on with the page. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joe
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Not as good a quality volume and as advertised and scruffier than suggested.
Published 2 months ago by Squidgo
Big Fan Of Michio Kaku, which led me onto Brian's book. Great description and theory but non an entry level introduction into the world of Quantum Physics.
Published 2 months ago by G E Fleming
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome
very very the point...coherent! without unwanted and unnecessary fluff. i enjoyed every syllable of this book. well done dr greene
Published 4 months ago by Dr Alan Xuereb
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 4 months 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 4 months 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 5 months ago by Roger
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