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


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.


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Michael Johnston

For those interested in "simply" understanding our universe this book offers an interesting tour of modern physics included a review of relativity, quantum mechanics and the search for TOE (the Theory Of Everything). However it is not for the faint of heart or those with limited imaginations. Here is what I love about physics - at some point the field left the realm of perceptibly plausible human reality and entered the realm of imaginative fantasy. How can light and matter be both wave and particle at the same time. How can electrons exist as probability not reality (put a different way - can something really exist not with certainty, but probabilistically). This book is a startling explanation (as far as any real explanation can be given) of how the world works at both the microscopic level and at the massive scale of the universe. Getting to that explanation requires that we take a tour of the history of Einstein's theory of relativity, then it's conflicts with the elemental findings of quantum mechanics and finally to string theory which offers the first faint glimpses of a theory which stitches together these two fundamental theories - the beginnings of a theory of everything. However string theory requires that we suspend our understanding of the universe through our senses. For example, we must contemplate a world in which there are not four dimensions (three of space and one of time), but as many as 11 dimensions - most of which are too small to be measured scientifically by equipment existing today. For the average person, this sounds ridiculous. If you can't see these extra dimensions and they are so imperceptibly small that you can't measure them, one might think that the scientists have simply created an imaginative artifice to make their theory work. And yet, one of the most intriguing things about string theory is that it explains so much. Most of the book is exceptionally well written - written in a way that those with a passing interest can follow and marvel at the wonder of it all. There is a small amount of more dense scientific explanation near the end, but if you stick with it you might find out that the newest thinking is that black holes might actually be massless and in some way another form of the elementary particle that makes up everything in the universe.Of course, long before you get to that point you may have run screaming from the room.


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.


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 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.

Lindsay Wing

I'm an English major and I can't do simple multiplication without a calculator, so needless to say, this is not my subject. I found this book to be really cool, though. First, Greene does an astounding job breaking down these incredibly complex concepts so that anyone can understand them (and when I say that, I mean it, because I still don't understand gravity, let along super string theory). So anyone looking for a basic break-down of these super interesting ideas, this is the book for you. More importantly, though, I found something amazing happen while I was reading it - Greene succeeds so well at making these ideas accessible that I was able to actually sit back periodically and reflect on them. And let me tell you as an English major, (we spend most of out time staring at the ceiling pondering concepts), these ideas are absolutely unbelievable. They are at once abstract and concrete and GORGEOUS. The fact that the tiniest particles move and behave the way they do, and the way that time flows, and the way that our bodies are pulled on a fishing line through time while we simultaneously exist in each compartmentalized moment for Talk about some enthralling ideas. And the most striking thing about them is that you get to continually remind yourself that not only is it amazing, but it's REAL. I was truly blown away by how enraptured this book made me with the universe that I occupy. It's an excellent option if you're feeling disillusioned or bored with your world.

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?

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.


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.

Mely Sibbald Bissonette

Will I make it through this? Bets?

Jack Thornsberry

This book blew my mind countless times as I read through it, so much so that I could usually only read 10-20 pages in one sitting. I had physics in high school, watched Cosmos and tons of other programs on the universe/relativity/quantum physics etc. so I have always had an interest but not enough to have that be my profession - nor am I smart enough in that way. Books like this let you visit that world for a while and this author does a fantastic job explaining general and advanced physics, Einstein, etc with many real world examples. Trust me, your mind will be doing flip flops when he talks about time bending, space travel, etc. After he builds the foundation, he sets the stage to cover string theory which many believe will be the next great leap in figuring out why the universe exists and where is it going. Awesome read to keep your mind sharp.

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!

Riku Sayuj

To think I put all that effort to understand a discredited theory...


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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