The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, And The Quest For The Ultimate Theory - Brian Greene

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Physics. Theoretical physics. Quantum theory. Normally the thought of these subjects would prepare the reader for a textbook tome to be avoided with fear and trembling. However, that's just not the case with this book by Greene.

Admirably, he manages to explain the often tricky concepts he deals with in the book in plain English, and you can avoid any mathematics - good news for most readers! Anyone with an interest in science will enjoy this book, which primarily argues in favour of the Superstring theory of physics.

The book starts giving a history of progress in the 20th century - the replacing of Newtonian physics with Einstein's relativity theories (and what these are), and then a discussion of the weird and wacky quantum world with some engaging experiments to tease out how strange this world appears to be.

The majority of the book then turns to describing string theory (that all matter is ultimately made up of incredibly tiny strings, which vibrate at different frequencies to make the matter in the universe - hence the comparison to the world being a 'cosmic symphony').

It's an engaging introduction to the subject for the reader, though does get a little tricky towards the end. Some concepts and theories it introduces will seem arbitrary to the reader (why eleven dimensions) and the discussion on holes in the spacetime fabric and odd mathematical shapes it introduces is not too clear.

The theory is often criticised for being more a philosophy than an empirically verifiable scientific argument, mainly as most believe we would never be able to observe strings as they are so tiny. Greene introduces a couple of arguments to counter this, but in the main swerves the issue. His passion for the subject is admirable, and whilst it is highly likely in the end the theory will prove to be completely wrong, you cannot but help respect the enthusiasm he has for the subject.

In summary, this is a fascinating, stimulating book offering an exciting theory as to what we, and everything around us, is ultimately made of. A must read for anyone interested in these questions and theoretical physics in general. Only time will tell if the aesthetic beauty of the set of esoteric mathematical equations that describe string theory justifies it having a unique place as a 'theory of everything'.

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, And The Quest For The Ultimate Theory

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