ISBN: 0099421038
ISBN 13: 9780099421030
By: Brian Greene

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A fascinating and thought-provoking journey through the mysteries of space, time, and matter.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.

Reader's Thoughts

Joao Vaz

Dear God, Will you ever allow us folks down here on Earth to come up with Einstein’s dream of a Theory of Everything (ToE)? The fact of the matter is that there are essentially two opposing theories upon which rests our knowledge of the universe: General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. That is, the world of the large and the world of the miniscule. But whenever we try to unify them, our calculations just fall short; or better, fall large!, for we bump into infinity. Oh wait!, this book has just told me that String theorists already have! They claim that all fundamental particles are composed of tiny vibrating strings of energy whose movement gives rise to all those different particles that we know of. And in so doing, not only do these strings fit into Quantum theory, but they're also able to accurately predict the whys and wherefores of the big bulks of matter, like those of stars and galaxies! TADÃÃN!BUT, not only are there five different versions to the theory, but also, and because we are talking about excruciatingly small objects, it is impossible to test it! Not really a theory is it? (daimn!) It shamelessly enters the realm of Philosophy… Oh those naysayers! Tell me of one thing that we take for granted today that hasn’t started as Cartesian doubt! You go get them my fairy little oscillating strings, which so happen to explain black holes! But back to you old man, you never really cease to surprise me! So you’re telling me that the universe is this big cosmic symphony whose musical notes are the sounds exuded by the movement of strings? Oh you shrewd mayster!, I always knew you had a bend for drama! With my heart in your stars, J


I was tired of reading nothing but literature, my main squeeze, and having only vague notions about scientific concepts whose names are often thrown around in public discourse. And so I've resolved to throw in a non-fiction book into my reading now and then, and, physics representing one of the larger gaps in my knowledge, I chose to read The Elegant Universe. How glad I am to have read it. As it turns out, my idea of string theory was erroneous, as was my rudimentary grasp of Einstein's theory of relativity. I wasn't expecting to read about the latter, but it turns out that the casual understanding of string theory that this book seeks to instill requires some understanding of relativity and some other ideas in physics. The first chapters of the book give a crash course on what's happened in physics since about the turn of the century, and then Greene starts in on string theory. The Elegant Universe is therefore a wonderful resource for any reader interested not only in an introduction to string theory but to relativity, quantum mechanics, and (in the final chapters) the big bang. Though I admit that other science books could have done the same, this one rekindled in me an interest in science that's lain dormant since middle school. (I'm now in my mid-20s). Often the book challenges the reader with somewhat dense passages about difficult concepts, but, considering the subject matter, Greene proves a passionate, lucid teacher.

Leslie D. Soule

While reading this book, a guy asked me what the "densest" book was that I'd ever read. I answered that it was this one. Although this book is extremely enlightening, and has given me a far better understanding of the concepts of theoretical physics, it is indeed dense and it took me a long time to read through it, making slow progress as I tried to absorb and wrap my head around the ideas contained within. I'd happened to find this book on sale at Barnes & Noble for $5 and I've never endured such an intense mental gauntlet in my life. This one's excellently written, but a definite challenge!


An Introduction to SuperstringTheory/M TheoryThis book offers an enjoyable ride through a lovely landscape of Superstring theory/M theory. The author is an active researcher and a popular writer in this field who is also known for his presentation on PBS's NOVA about quantum cosmology. Since the postulation of special theory of relativity, Einstein and subsequent physicists have struggled to explain the four natural forces of the most basic components of matter; the electromagnetic force; the strong and weak nuclear forces; and the gravitational force by one unified field theory (a.k.a., theory of everything: Superstring/M Theory). This theory must unify the forces of the cosmos, and forces of microcosm thereby explaining the creation of heaven and earth. The author covers significant amount of material in simple clearly written non-technical and non-mathematical form. The book is described in four parts; first two parts introduces theory of relativity and quantum mechanics and the unholy marriage of the two that results in the complexity of understanding the forces of the cosmos and subatomic forces. The latter two parts describes Superstring theory that evolves into more focused M theory to explain all physical forces of nature. This theory suffers from lack of experimental evidence, but rests solely on mathematical calculations. Hence it was subjected to heavy criticism during early years of the theory by leading physicists. However it has emerged as a winner as the theory grew out of academic obscurity to leading contender in quantum cosmology. The book has interesting tales about the leaders of the field such as Ed Witten who is strongly favored as the true successor of Albert Einstein. The author's enthusiasm and excitement about his involvement in this field is evident abundantly, when he discovers that fabric of space tears and repairs itself. This book is lot more informative and enjoyable than Michio Kaku's Hyperspace (see my review of this book). At the end of the book, notes to each chapter, Glossary of scientific terms, and suggested books for further reading offers stepping stones to more enthusiastic readers for furthering their knowledge. The author has done an excellent job of writing this book, and I encourage you to buy it: But he could have considered writing a chapter on mathematical methodology and some basic approaches to calculations that probably would have made this book one of the top few in this field.

April Khaito

Let me start by saying I'm no physicist and I don't claim to fully understand all of the nuances underlying string theory. From what I've learned, I find it hard to believe and, in many instances, too coincidental for my liking. Despite this reaction, I found "The Elegant Universe" wholly and utterly fascinating. It's rare that you come away from a book with a changed perception, a broadened view, and a host of core-shaking questions. The physics was engrossing, but more than that, Greene does what I've heard few in the scientific community do. He doesn't propose to have all the answers. Be it string theory, the big bang theory, or other cosmological ideas, he challenges his views as well as the reader's. "Sometimes attaining the deepest familiarity with a question is our best substitute for actually having the answer," Greene says. For me, the allure of this book was that it forced me to contemplate the "how" of our universe and our existence (in a new and separate way from my firmly-held beliefs) and in so doing raise the ultimate question of the "why". It's a question Greene hints at and, personally, I think it's the one most pressing.


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AN INTRODUCTION BY WAY OF HYPERBOLIC SENTIMENT: The Elegant Universe is "The Bible" of superstring theory[*:].I close the covers of The Elegant Universe with powerfully mixed feelings. On the one hand, Brian Greene gives us a lucidly-written layman's-terms explanation for high-concept modern physics, providing an excellent survey of 20th century science and painting a vivid picture of a promising strategy for reconciling the discrepancies in the otherwise dominant theories. On the other hand, about half-way through the text, it devolves into (what feels like) a navel-gazing vanity project that fails to connect that promising strategy with the target audience (i.e., the layman that actually gives a damn about modern science).To be clear: the first third of the book is a remarkable accomplishment. Brian Greene is a cogent writer with a wonderful pedagogical streak that is able to produce a clear image of some otherwise hard-to-decipher concepts in modern physics. Because of The Elegant Universe, I feel like I now have a fairly good understanding of the core concepts underlying Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, and quantum mechanics (e.g., Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). Greene is also able to give a decent explanation regarding how these theories break down when you try to "merge" them (e.g., like when you come up with "infinite energy" and/or "infinite mass" and/or "infinite probabilities" through calculations of black holes or the Big Bang).This first third of the book is very accessible, very enjoyable, and very informative. Engaging, fascinating, and extremely powerful.Somewhere during that potent 130-150 pages, Greene remarks (something to the effect of): You cannot be said to fully understand something until you can explain both its system and significance to a complete stranger. (Not a quote, but I'm sure you know what I'm getting at...)And with that statement does Dr. Greene undermine the remaining two-thirds of the book. After introducing string theory, after explaining that it is a strategy with the potential to marry relativity and quantum mechanics, after getting you (the lay-reader) excited that you too will have some insight into the critical significance that is superstring theory — he glosses over some math (which doesn't really feel like physics after that first 120 pages) and more/less asks you to "bear with me here, trust me..." EXAMPLE: after introducing the concept of strings, the text rushes into a discussion of 6-dimensional "curled up" Calabi-Yau manifolds without really giving a good way of visualizing that whole mess[†:]. EXAMPLE: after 2 or 3 chapters about string theory where Greene is introducing it and discussing how it might reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, he starts to segue into reconciling aspects of string theory with itself — looping back (like its own subject strings) on itself in a perverse recursion full of mathematical adjustments and jargon. EXAMPLE: in the midst of discussing how this New Science, and where you expect it to loop back on the promised explanations for the Old Science, Greene veers off into a series of anecdotes about "this one time at Harvard..." and/or "once at Princeton we stayed up all night and..." — which really just seemed a little gratuitous.By the time I realized what was happening, my attitude was already tainted. Perhaps I could have extracted more of the science if my cynicism hadn't kicked in so virulently and so early on in the reading. Perhaps spending more time with the end-notes will prove fruitful. Or perhaps on a future, subsequent follow-up reading I will discover that I was right the first time and we have 150 or so pages of incredible science writing and the remainder is chintzy vanity project[‡:].RATED FOR HYPE: ★★★★★RATED FOR STYLE: ★★★☆☆RATED FOR SCIENCE: ★★☆☆☆---[*:] Let's hear it for faith-based science?[†:] This is partly me being overly critical of Greene's (in my opinion) cavalier treatment of the Calabi-Yau concepts immediately following their introduction. There are some end-notes and citations for further reading, and he does attempt to dedicate some space in the main text to the idea — but his "dumbing down" of the Calabi-Yau manifolds to the "ant in the garden hose" analogy just doesn't really address it with sufficient vigor. Not after the incredible work he did in the earlier chapters re explaining relativity and quantum mechanics. I suppose I may have been more satisfied with something along the lines of "you have your time dimension, your three 'regular' space dimensions, and then these other six are really dedicated to providing reference points to describing the shape and vibration of the string IN THE THREE DIMENSIONS YOU ARE ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH" — but no such explanation was there. If that's even really what he might have meant.[‡:] Which I mean in the nicest possible way...? To be fair, Greene leaves plenty of room throughout the text to permit himself (and his colleagues studying superstring theory) to be "wrong". It reminds me of when Robert Wright hedges his bets in The Moral Animal , saying that the evolutionary psychology approach (as championed by himself, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Robert Trivers, and others) is a strong one that explains a whole lot but you better be careful before you go painting too broad of a stroke with those kinds of theories... Greene seems to do similar hedging, admitting that aspects of superstring theory seem tenuous (esp. when you consider how many "adjustments" they perform while "fine-tuning" a given aspect of the theory(s)) and that they (as scientists) are wise to temper their enthusiasm, to not lose sight of goals like "experimental verification". But then there's Greene's enthusiasm — which can easily electrify the reader but also just as easily undermine all of that careful hedging.


I read this book while taking a course (for non-physics students) called Modern Physics in Perspective, which centered on string theory. I learned so, so, so much in this class & the book helped a lot. If you're reading this book unassisted, be aware that there are some very confusing sections that you'll need to read a few times. Sometimes his analogies are a bit too inane. Also, I've discovered that many physicists have an unhealthy obsession with their research pet projects- I'd advise that you ignore the sections on Calabi-Yau shapes entirely.These faults aside, The Elegant Universe is the only book about science that I have ever read from start to finish and enjoyed from start to finish. It'll blow your mind.

Anthony Berger

Greene took an almost ungraspable concept and delivered it to the lay person with relative panache. Giving practical, macroscopic examples of relativity and spacetime; breaking down the concepts within quantum theory; taking the various forms of string theory and mentioning the compilation of those theories to M-theory, makes Greene gifted.Unfortunately, there are digressions and obvious gaps that most readers are trying to come to terms with, which Greene doesn't even mention. Oftentimes, many people reading books about the fundamental nature of matter within our universe, search for an answer to the question of why matter manifested the way it did? This question is left completely unanswered. It took an engaging conversation with a close friend to realize that that question is simply impossible to answer and therefore completely irrelevant. It would have been nice for Greene to have stated that, however.Another "elephant in the room": while these concepts are truly phenomenal, they're also entirely theoretical. It's astounding that extraordinarily complex multivariable differential transforms, which require months for computers to process, based upon algorithms designed to answer our questions, can result in simple integer solutions. But, can we reliably say that these computer simulations give us a numerical answer that is truly representative of the physical universe? No. We can only hope it does. Therefore, it begs the question, while we search for the elegant unifying theory of the universe, when will we realize that we either come to accept elegance is lost in the complexity of our [fabled] search for unification, or finally realize we're approaching the idea all wrong?


I left Christianity a few years ago and swore off religion altogether; however, after reading this book, string theory has become tantamount to religion in my life. Brian Greene writes beautifully about particles, planets, and the origins of our universe as we know it today. It is a heavy book- I don't recommend it for anyone who wants a quick, easy read. It took me almost two months to get through, but I learned a tremendous amount and came away in complete awe of the world and the forces at work in it today. Since Green wrote his book string theory has come under intense scrutiny; despite this, I would still support this book on the basis that it is gorgeously written, based in fact (many of the experiments and proofs were done by Greene himself), and incredibly informative. A vertible Bible of where we came from, where we're going and the incredibly complex way things function in this glorious universe of ours.


I was given this book as a gift. I typically don't go for the sort of fluffy stuff you'd find in the "Science" section at Barnes & Noble, which I figured this would be. I'm much more into mathematics than physics and have devoted most of my academic career to math shit rather than physics shit. So I was already prepared to lose my footing at some point in this book. I have a pretty good grasp on Special Relativity though so I tried to use that as a gauge for how well this dude was describing the more recent stuff beyond the point where my eyes just glazed over. I was happy that this fella got into stuff that lost me. It worries me when I finish a book about a complex or abstract thing and it's not a struggle to understand the material. I wonder whether the writer is just that good or that bad. What I found about this dude is that his wanting to illustrate everything with a metaphor or an analogy wound up confusing the stuff more. I mean, some were cool and I think I gleaned something of the rough shape of an idea. There were other spots where he used 3-4 different metaphors to get across an idea that was already pretty damn abstract. I think at those spots I'd have preferred more elaboration in the form of the notes in the back for "the expert reader" or for "the mathematically inclined". I basically read this as a starting point. I kept a book for notes as I read and now I have a bunch of pages of leads for further investigation. On a superficial level, I liked this guy's writing style. And the book was somewhat enjoyable while discussing bananas shit. I think there was a chapter or 2 where my reading was as productive as staring at the floor. All in all I don't know who I'd recommend this to. I'm part of a math club and no one there would take it off my hands when I was done because they don't like "rock star physicists" who write fluffy science books. But at the same time I can't give it to my mom because it does get into stuff within the first page that would lose her. I'm not sure if all this explains why I gave it 3 stars, but I felt the need to be lengthy.


Whenever I told someone I was reading a book about string theory I would get looks of confusion and bewilderment. What would compel me to read about such a complicated and theoretical concept? I am not a physicist or a mathematician, just a programmer. I have a pretty good understanding of fundamental physics but Brian Greene does an excellent job explaining string theory concepts even for those with just a fundamental understanding.After reading this book will I be able to explain string/M-theory to someone else. No. It's still a complex topic. To quote the book "Ernest Rutherford once said, in essence, that if you can't explain a result in simple, nontechnical terms, then you don't really understand it" (p. 203). This is how I felt after reading this book. Yes, I feel confident that I could comprehend 85% of the book but I know that I still lack full understanding. I did enjoy the book enough to give it a 5-star rating because I do believe it was amazing. In fact I intend to read the book again in hopes that having read the entire book, going back over the concepts a second time will help make additional connections.


[Original review, written December 2008]When I read this book, I remember thinking it was pretty interesting, but I am surprised how few insights I have retained... to be honest, hardly any. Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, which I read much more recently, suggests that string theory is in big trouble, and right now I am more tempted to side with Smolin.There's this old Nasrudin story, where he's somehow ended up as judge in a court case. The D.A. really makes a good case, and Nasrudin can't restrain himself. "Yes, you're right!" he shouts. Then the defense lawyer gets up and makes his pitch, and Nasrudin is equally impressed. "Yes, you're right!" he shouts again. The court recorder clears his throat and leans over towards Nasrudin. "Your honor," he says respectfully, "they can't both be right!". Nasrudin shakes his head. "Yes, you're right!" he agrees.Well, between Greene and Smolin I feel a bit like Nasrudin, but luckily I am not the judge here. Am I just agreeing with Smolin because I heard him most recently? Maybe. But trying to correct for that, I still think that there is a reason why Smolin seems more convincing and memorable, and why very little of what Greene says has stuck. String theory has become so divorced from experimental reality that it rarely if ever gives you that feeling you get from good science, of suddenly grasping a real physical phenomenon that you have known about for a while, but not understood. I guess the example that makes me least happy is supersymmetry, according to which every particle has a supersymmetric partner. Compare this with the discovery of the periodic table in the late 19th century, or the development of the Standard Theory in the 60s and 70s. There, insightful people gradually realized that objects (atoms in the first case, subatomic particles in the second) were related in a complicated pattern. Most of the time the pattern fit, but there were a few holes, and they were later able to find the things (new elements, new particles) that filled in the holes! I was astonished to read that there is not one single particle which has a known supersymmetric partner - so far, it's all hypothesis, and perhaps none of these "selectrons", "photinos" etc actually exist. I'm not saying that this means supersymmetry is wrong; I'm just saying it means I don't find it exciting. Maybe next year they will get the LHC working, discover a whole slew of supersymmetric partners (even one would be a lot), and put string theory on a proper experimental footing. If that happens, I'm sure I'll go back to reading books on this subject; I won't be able to stop myself. But until then, well, it may be beautiful math, but I feel no emotional connection to it. I'd love to hear from people who disagree, and can explain to me just what it is I'm missing out on.__________________________________[Update, May 2011]We had another particle physicist over for dinner last night. He'd come mainly to play chess, but when I found out that he was involved in looking for supersymmetric particles I took the opportunity to ask how it was going. Well: assuming he's to be trusted, and he sounded pretty knowledgeable on the subject, we should know pretty soon. The LHC is now up to high enough energies. They're collecting data. If supersymmetric particles exist, there is every reason to suppose that we'll have clear evidence of them within a year or two.I wondered what would happen if they didn't find any supersymmetric particles? Would the theoreticians just retreat into saying that they needed a more powerful collider? Not so, said my informant; if the particles can't be found at the current range of energies, the predictions were wrong. Sounds like we're finally getting a straight up-or-down vote.String theory, you can run but you can't hide!__________________________________[Update, September 2011]I knew it was too good to be true. We had yet another particle physicist over, whose PhD topic had been something to do with searching for a supersymmetric quark. I asked her if it really was the case that we'd soon know if supersymmetric particles existed.Alas, it turns out that, although the energies they're now reaching in the LHC are indeed sufficient to find supersymmetric particle according to the mainstream versions of string theory, there are other versions which predict higher energies - energies which are outside the LHC's range. "Of course," she added, "the mainstream version is the one that contains the original motivation for supersymmetry. If they retreat to one of the other versions, then most of the rationale disappears. But people have a lot riding on string theory.""That's terrible!" I said indignantly. She just shrugged her shoulders.


E' un Universo liquidoE' un Universo difficile, lavoro duro e destino incerto.Dopo Zygmut Baumann, ci voleva anche la fisica quantistica a toglierci ogni certezza, immersi in un cosmo che funziona come un mantice, si gonfia e si sgonfia (forse), e noi in mezzo, a vivere chissà, forse più vite, su più dimensioni, arrotolate come bigodini o srotolate come tappeti.Richard Feynman, guru della meccanica quantistica, disse “penso di poter affermare con sicurezza che nessuno capisce la meccanica quantistica”. Molto bene, a me qualcosa sembra di aver capito.Il bello di questo libro, molto elegante, è che è scritto così bene che ti sembra di capire tutto. Greene è bravo, conduce il lettore medio, non tecnico, mano per mano, esempi chiari e divertenti e ti fa capire. Poi, quando sei contento perché pensi di aver raggiunto il tuo scoglio su cui aggrapparti felice, in mezzo a tutte queste turbolenze quantistiche, ti spiazza dimostrandoti che non è così, del resto abbiamo capito che dobbiamo esser pronti a tutto: tutto è relativo (Einstein) e tutto è assai indeterminato (fisica quantistica).Forti di queste certezze incerte, colpisce il fatto che i fisici dei quanti nella visione cosmogologica arrivino a teorizzare cose postulate secoli fa dai filosofi Greci o dai corsi e ricorsi di Vico o dell'Univesro eterno e dei molti mondi di Tommaso Bruno. Forse scopriremo che la fisica coincide con la filosofia. O magari con la Metafisica. Buffo no?


The first section of the book boasts an outstanding, lucid introduction to the underlying "pillars" of Modern Physics: Classical Mechanics, Special & General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics. These chapters involve a great number of thoughtful, clever analogies. If this is your maiden venture into popular physics literature (as it was mine), the first 135 pages or so are really worthy of sufficiently focused study. My whole worldview has been changed as a result!The remainder of the text depicts a historical overview of the emergence of string theory as a leading candidate for the elusive "Theory of Everything." Some of the more technical passages are predictably dense, but these generally make for the most rewarding reading. Unsurprisingly, the most interesting parts of the book describe developments in which the author, Brian Greene, personally contributed. I am obviously not qualified to judge his merits as a physicist, but he is really a wonderful writer.One final comment: much of the criticism toward this book stems from the fact that string theory is just that -- a theory and not verifiable physical law. The doubts of the skeptics are entirely reasonable. But they do not give credit to the incredibly fair treatment Greene gives of the discussion. (I wonder if they've even read the book...) He airs in print both the criticism and support of string theory (and reductionism in general) in equal measure. I feel that his even-handed framing of the subject is probably the book's greatest quality!

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