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66 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deals clearly with its subject, but.....
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...
Published on 5 Oct 2000 by Peter Dzwig

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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks criticality. Good book nontheless.
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...
Published on 30 July 2005 by Andrew James Pearson


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66 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deals clearly with its subject, but....., 5 Oct 2000
By 
Peter Dzwig (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faith Is Evidence Of Things Not Seen, 29 Sep 2009
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. The beauty of Einstein's time dilation for example is that it has been proven (I think). I suppose the proof will be (or not as the case may be) in the pudding for string theory. Until then, give me no religion.

But four stars nevertheless because Greene knows his stuff and writes well.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and strings. It's got the lot., 4 Jun 2000
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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112 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than Hawking's Book, 18 April 2001
By 
G. ADAIR - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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. Nevertheless, Greene has structured the book such that the reader can skip chapters that bore/confuse/both without losing the thread of the book entirely. And as such I made it to the end after all.
I'm no scientist or mathematician, just a bloke who's fascinated by physics and cosmology from an everyday standpoint and who has a thirst for knowledge. If you're the same, this book will quench it admirably.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks criticality. Good book nontheless., 30 July 2005
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brian Greene brings joy ... to the uninitiated., 24 Mar 2002
By A Customer
Brian Greene should be feted for his extraordinary ability to elucidate complex and abstract thoughts about string physics and make them cogent for the masses. His flair in gently leading the readers to the subtleties and insights involved to profound truths about this remarkable theory is praiseworthy. This indeed is cutting-edge physics at its best.
People who have missed out on new strides modern physics has taken in the recent past should definitely give this book a read. The string theorists have tried to explain nature in the most basics of building blocks, i.e. strings - which resides in the ultra-microscopic plank-scale world - vibrating not in the 4-dimensional space-time we are familiar with but in a 10-dimensional space-time world (11 dimensional in the case of M-Theory). The extra dimensions which hasn't manifested itself experimentally or otherwise is said to be curled up in plank-scale sizes, explained by exotic mathematical models of Calabi-Yau shapes. The mere vibrations (clockwise or anticlockwise) of strings would generate the different fundamental particles(fermions) and the different force/messenger particles(bosons). One of the vibration patterns with mass=0 and a spin=2 exactly describes the elusive graviton, the messenger particle of gravitation and thus becomes the only theory to have gravitation built-in in a quantum mechanical way. SO this could be a theory of gravity - the holy grail for the physicists - and possibly the theory of everything, as it has tried to smoothen out the conflicts between quantum mechanics and general relativity - the two pillars of modern physics.
This is a journey which everyone should take for the sheer joy and excitement it creates and brings you closer to the inner workings of nature.
(At times, high school physics becomes necessary to understand the finer points Mr. Greene makes.) This journey which begins with concepts about special and general relativity and then to the standard model of particle physics, gathers pace and takes you on a ride of your lifetime through hidden dimensions, calabi-yau spaces, supersymmetry, gauge symmetry, space-tearing flop and conifold transitions, M-theory, p-branes, 3-branes wrapped black holes becoming massless and then transmutating into massless photons ... and finally when the ride ends you are left thrilled, amazed, overjoyed and gasping for air !!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most lucid account of theoretical physics, 21 July 2002
Its a book that puts "a brief history of time" to shame. Brilliantly written, with examples that shed light on general theory of relativity, quantam mechanics & geometry and strings. Equations, if you're interested, are available in the end notes.
This book was recommended by a friend, after I found that the brief history of time was such a dissapointing read. Now I would definitely rate "The Elegant Universe" as a benchmark on how such a difficult subject can be handled with such clarity
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highly readable up to the minute account of superstrings., 21 April 1999
By A Customer
Having just read the first customer review of this book I thought that I should offer my own reactions as a counterbalance. I thought the book was EXCELLENT and I found it hard to put down. It is the most up to date laymans account of where we are with superstrings that I am aware of and if Brian Greene is right then the world is poised on the brink of discovering the ultimate theory - the Theory of Everything. The book has, in my opinion, a very appropriate title as Brian Greene manages to convey something of the awesome beauty of the nature of the Universe and how neatly it appears to be constructed. In spite of the fact that mathematical treatments and explanations are entirely avoided, the book is quite hard to follow in some places. However, I still found it very exciting and thought provoking.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars mostly lucid, but gets beyond me in places, 15 Oct 2002
By 
ab..c (england) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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This professor is one of the leading lights of physics and his command of lucid narrative is a boon. His description of theory of special and general relativity was the best ever encountered.
I followed the main explanation about quantum mechanics that was also excellently delivered, but as science gets towards the edges of known knowledge and covers string theory, it gets hard to keep all the facts in your head at the same time. You may need to read it more than once to follow it all. If you can follow all this your doing better than me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent view of superstring theory and modern physics., 1 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Anybody who is interested in Physics, Space or just science, this is a book for you. It explains in simple language modern day and some common physics (such as relativity) in simple to understand and comprehendable english. No mathematics and many diagrams to aid you in your understanding.
Although some background to the topic would be helpful to get more out of the book, you really can read it from any level. I must warn that it can get a little bit complicated in areas, and can be just a tad on the heavy side, but once you get your head round it, the book is truely excellent.
It displays what space physics and where it is heading in splendid detail. A must for any budding physicist or enthusiast!
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