The Elegant Universe Audio CD
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- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1415967296
- ISBN-13 : 978-1415967294
- Item Weight : 16 ounces
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,884,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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As I read it the first time, I thought most of the theories felt like science fiction, and thus they had to be wrong (never mind that they were developed by the most brilliant human beings in history)... I could not relate any of what I was reading to my daily life and I fwlt that what I was being asked to believe was too much.... not on the second pass: that time I used much more imagination and allowed “science fiction” to be real. That changed everything for me and the second time I was able to really see the universe as this place where “unbelievable” things can happen.
The hardest part for me about this book is the inability to visualize more than 3 spatial dimensions (probably many feel this same way), despite the authors emphasis on trying to extrapolate his examples to lower dimensions where visualization is common place.
My only complaint is that the book was written in the 90s and i am sure that there has been plenty proved and disproved about what is discussed in the book and so my only real want would be that they had a modere updated edition which clarifies where some of the mysteries (at the time) have been cleared
I like the way the book is organized. Before Greene goes deep into string theory, he has chapters on special relativity, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and on the difficulty reconciling the last two of these with each other. This sets the stage for string theory, a theory which enables the merging of general relativity and quantum mechanics. The middle of the book then presents the main framework of string theory, leaving the final chapters to delve into its connection to M-Theory, black holes, and cosmology. Greene describes difficult concepts without diving into mathematics -- mostly successfully, though I was left baffled on a couple of occasions -- leaving it to the chapter notes to hint at the mathematical details. (I note that I have a mathematics degree, but it doesn't encompass the math of string theory.)
I love the quest to find the ultimate underpinnings of the universe, a quest that has some of the same flavor as fundamental philosophical questions. The possibilities that the book raises are fascinating: that the fundamental ingredients of the universe may not be elementary particles, but rather vibrating strings or branes; that the universe may not have begun in a pure big bang singularity, but in a tiny Planck-size nugget of strings; that the familiar four space/time dimensions may be outnumbered by additional dimensions curled up in strange Calabi-Yau shapes. Highly recommended.
About my reviews: I try to review every book I read, including those that I don't end up enjoying. The reviews are not scholarly, but just indicate my reaction as a reader, reading being my addiction. I am miserly with 5-star reviews; 4 stars means I liked a book very much; 3 stars means I liked it; 2 stars means I didn't like it (though often the 2-star books are very popular with other readers and/or are by authors whose other work I've loved).
By Keisha St.Julien on July 3, 2019
Top reviews from other countries
Brian Greene succeeds brilliantly. Relativity, both Special and General, Quantum Mechanics are all presented about as clearly as I have ever seen, but without oversimplifying and brushing important aspects under the carpet. He then moves onto the tricky subject matter of the various flavours of String Theory and M-Theory, which he explains with equal aplomb.
His presentation of String Theory is definitely from the perspective of a devotee. However, he is not dogmatic -- he leaves space for ideas such as an underlying reality where there are no spatial or temporal dimensions.
Very minor point -- I was annoyed by his description of a pressure cooker as heating because it increased pressure. But the quality of the writing overall redeemed him.
I could have struggled on but one factor in the back of my mind was that the Kindle edition I was reading, which was purchased from Amazon in January 2014, was derived from a book published as long ago as 2000 so I felt it was likely that string theory would have moved on since then. Consequently, I was conscious that some of the more advanced concepts may have been updated or replaced in the intervening years and I might have been wasting my time trying to understand something that was no longer considered valid. These thoughts were somewhat demotivating.
But from what I learnt, or at least as it was understood in around 2000, string theory is highly theoretical, with only approximate (and usually multiple) solutions to what are sometimes just approximate equations. There is no strong experimental evidence to support the theory, and neither is the theory of much value in predicting experimental results. Nevertheless, the theory does try to make sense of, and rationalise, the numerous fundamental particles making up the standard model. It also seeks to unite quantum theory with general relativity and gravity. It therefore has the potential to solve problems that have faced physics since the quantum and general relativity theories were first formulated in the early 20th century.
It's undoubtedly a complex theory but Greene does a good job of explaining much of the basics. I particularly liked the way that for many tricky concepts he explained them from two different angles, often using analogies. Therefore, I found that if I didn't quite understand one explanation, there was often a second explanation from a different perspective that made more sense to me. I found this double attack approach very useful for enforcing many of the basic ideas.
String theory requires more dimensions than we are familiar with in our everyday lives, these extra dimensions being very small and curled up. It's difficult to visualise what this means but Greene provided an excellent (although simplified) explanation of these curled up dimensions using the example of an insect walking along a hose pipe, where the length of the hose pipe represents a dimension we're all familiar with, and which can be seen from afar, but the cylindrical cross-section of the hose pipe is a curled up dimension, only visible from close-up.
Although I didn't manage to finish it, I'm still awarding this book 4 stars because I doubt that many authors could better Greene's treatment of this difficult subject. His approach is entirely non-mathematical, which is a challenge for a theory based entirely on mathematics, yet he manages to present many complex ideas in an understandable manner.
Looking on Amazon today I discover that the 2000 Kindle edition I was reading has been replaced by a 2011 edition. A sample I downloaded looks very similar to what I've already read but I'm wondering if some of the chapters may have changed.
In 'The Elegant Universe', Greene explores the theory of relativity, spacetime and quantum theory in great detail, before progressing to the complex world of superstring theory. Don't let this breadth put you off, however. Every new point in the book is explained perfectly and in a very clear way, very often using real world analogies. Greene, unusually, also brings a small amount of humour to the book, which serves both to lighten the mood and to develop a connection with the author.
As far as the actual structure of the book goes, it is very much a book of two halves. First off, Greene tells of and explains three complexes physics encountered in the early- to mid- twentieth century. Then, in the second part, Greene explains superstring theory's past, present and future, all in language that an A-level Physics student can understand without too much bother.
That last line should be noted, however. The reader does need to have a basic idea of physical concepts and maths in order to understand the text, as the ideas come thick and fast and some facts are taken as a given. If you have read popular physics books before or have studied Physics to at least a GCSE level (or equivalent) you should be fine, but if this is the first popular physics book you are planning to read, I would recommend you don't. A good idea, in my opinion, would be to read Brian Cox's 'Why Does E=MC^2' and then progressing onto this book, as they both deal with the same ideas through a different context.
In concluding, Brian Greene has succeeded greatly in bringing the highly-complex subject of string theory (and much else besides) to the (partially educated) masses. Provided you have some knowledge of physics, I'm sure you will enjoy this book. For me, personally, the in-depth explanations and way the developments are told make this the best physics book I have read to date, and I'm sure I'll be saying that for an awfully long time to come.
Greene begins by looking at the bedrocks of modern physics, relativity and quantum theory before progressing on to the eleven dimensions of string theory. It is thanks to writers like Greene, who are able to explain, without resorting to complex mathematics, such difficult concepts that the layman can begin to get a feel for the wonders of the universe. A fascinating read.
"[An] important book.... The Elegant Universe presents the ideas and aspirations-and some of the characters-of string theory with clarity and charm."
"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
"[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 Medallist, winner of the National Medal of Science
I also recommend two other works by Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality and The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos .