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on 27 March 2017
I really enjoyed this book - found the title prior but ignored it, then a friend who worked in high energy physics for many years recommended it, onm a Scotland Xmas visit. There are some sour reviews about Smolin's "2-faced intent", which I think useless and 3rd rate, (the reviews), but I myself found the book informative both for history, overview and some biographical background. He Does Not Like String Theory! Perhaps this book is not for a top-flight physicist who knows all this, but for a general scientist or those otherwise interested, I thought it a very good read. I do recommend the hardback if you're older, as the 2 paperback versions I saw where shrunk all-round and the font correspondingly harder to read - I sent my bought paperback off to elsewhere, and re-bought the hardcover version (which I usually avoid for reasons of weight and space).
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on 18 May 2016
This is an interesting book. It concentrates mainly on string theory and quantum gravity and Lee Smolin guides us through a lot of the history of those theories, detailing their successes and failures. This is all presented in a non-mathematical way, although some of the concepts are mind-bending enough even without the maths.

But the point of the book is to highlight what Smolin believes is 'The Trouble with Physics'. The latter chapters are devoted specifically to this and here we learn how physics follows fads, and tenures, grants and professorships are awarded to those who follow the 'in' thing. Smolin argues that physics is in need of a revolution and more risk-takers with new ideas should be employed in the field to provide fresh perspectives on the foundational areas of physics.

I found this book an enjoyable read and something of an eye-opener in relation to how the world of academics works. Recommended.
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on 5 April 2015
An interesting take on the state of phyics in academia; to me Smolin seems to have been right, physics was hijacked by people who thought their theory must be correct despite every prediction it had ever made being wrong and despite not even being able to say what their theory was and were going to make sure that no-one was ever supported in looking at alternative theories. I don't know whether things have improved since this book was written, because although I still see claims in the press that the old non-proofs of finiteness of results for string theory are valid proofs or that the gravitons that are predicted by one version of string theory that is known not to work are proof that string theory does work but I don't know whether that's what the physicists are claiming or something the reporters are repeating because they heard it years ago.
The book is easily readable, and doesn't require any serious understanding of physics or mathematics to follow what Smolin is putting forward. It does however require both an understanding of what is (or should that be "used to be"?) recognised as the scientific method and the ability to see why abandoning that (and thus abandoning the whole idea that a non-testable theory of physics is just so much fluff) is probably a bad thing - so not recommended for string theorists who are not prepared to consider the possibility that their untestable and inadequately defined theory might not actually be the be-all and end-all of physics.
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on 30 August 2010
The first thing to say is that the first British edition of this book was in 2007, so some of it may not be up to date.
That said, the trouble with physics, according to Smolin, is that in the 200 years up to 1975 major advances were made about every 25 years, but since 1975 there have been none. This period coincides with Smolin's professional career as a physicist.

Smolin indentifies five major problems that faced physicists in 1975, none of which have been solved. The first was the need to reconcile relativity with quantum mechanics. Various theories were put forward, but the dominant one was string theory, which Smolin explains as well as is possible, I guess, without maths.

Smolin complains that string theory is not really a theory at all, in that it makes no predictions and, therfore, cannot be tested by experiment. Nevertheless, it has become the dominant theory in university physics departments, to the extent that no young physicist can expect to get a post, at least in American universities, who does not subscribe to it.

Thus, the book is largely a critique of string theory, and the way universities fail to encourage theorists with original ideas. Physicists, he says, are of two kinds. There are the craftsmen and the dreamers. At the moment the craftsmen are in the ascendant, but Smolin thinks that something important is being missed, and what physics needs is a dreamer or seer to identify what this is.
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on 18 November 2010
Lee Smolin gives a great overview of what Physics is up to these days. However, he is also a bitter man who has found that if you don't like string theory you get pushed to one side and a lot more of this book than is necessary is dedicated to attacking the poor state of affairs that allows one theory to overwhelm an entire science (and thus to push him into a corner). However he does have a point, string theory is built upon shaky foundations - mathematics that no one else can understand, mathematics that no one else can understand that is kludged to fit together, theories that cannot be tested in any way, theories that you are not supposed to question because they are nearly a "theory of everything". As something between an informed outsider and an interested idiot I've had serious doubts about whether string theory is in any way meaningful and it is very interesting to hear someone very knowledgeable in the field pointing out that the emperor really is wearing no clothes.

Whilst I agree with much of what is written in the last section of the book about how university departments operate particularly with regards to funding, I found it a little tedious and repetitive (even more so because much of what is here is stated elsewhere in the text) which is why I gave four stars instead of five.
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on 31 October 2015
Great read and opens up the "traditional limitations" of TRADITIONS which are enforced through pier pressure and assumed superiority of scientific bosses, which are undoubtably restraining talent. If you think not, just what is holding science innovation back? then just look back 40 years and note what has not been unraveled about fundamental ideas, due to HEIRARCHY policies of traditions. RDR
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on 8 October 2017
Excellent. Deep. Be prepared for a challenging, yet rewarding read...
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on 4 December 2016
A good historical background. I did not enjoy the last few chapters that deal with sociology of theoretical physics and the status of becoming a physicist.
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on 20 December 2008
I found this insider view into the world of physics and physicists very interesting. For me, an economist,it was surprising to learn that mainstrem physics has, at least according to the author, gotten lost in beatiful equations and alienated itself from facts.

The phenomenon the author describes resembles the state of affairs in economics, in which all mainstream models employ the assumption of rational behavior. I hope physics does not degrade to the same level of speculation where economics is.
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on 3 December 2015
Very technical and I don't understand much of what I'm reading, but maybe the beak is one level beyond me
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