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

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.


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?

Mark Laflamme

For me, "The Elegant Universe" is the book that started it all. Greene has such a smooth way of easing the novice into the complexities of string theory, the reader feels almost acquainted by the time the science is introduced. Never boring or tedious, Greene deftly guides us through the basics of relativity, explains the importance of frames of reference, and eases us into the almost magical world of gravity and timespace.Like Einstein, Greene presents the science through simple visuals - balls and bicycles, funny cars and cartoon spaceships. The reader will never feel as though he sits in a classroom with a boring professor droning away the afternoon. Instead, Greene describes the physics in a real world way and in doing so, prepares even the most casual student for the truly strange world of strings.String theory appears to be the road to a unified theory, the long sought Theory of Everything that will unite relativity and quantum mechanics. Along the way is a wonderous world of possibilities, with extra dimensions, parallel worlds, and all the while, tiny strings vibrating the symphony of the universe.I read this book with a zeal normally reserved for action novels. Each night was a new lesson and a new glimpse at a different part of the universe. Greene's gift is a clear and friendly writing style that makes this heavy science accessible to those of us without a string of initials at the end of our name.Many physicists came before Greene and others have followed suit. But for me, "The Elegant Universe" is the book that opened my eyes to the mind blowing world of strings and the possibilities they present. And I've been hooked on string theory since. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever looked at a sky full of stars and wondered what it's all about.Mark LaFlamme, author of "The Pink Room"

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?


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[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.


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.


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.

Mahendra Palsule

Superstring Theory has very little hope left of being proven true after recent LHC findings that leave this book outdated. Nevertheless, I felt I owed at least a basic understanding of the theory to the scientists who have been working on it for over two decades.String theory is conceptually very simple compared to paradigm-shifting Special/General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. While these earlier scientific revolutions involved multiple counter-intuitive principles that formed their backbone, the only challenging aspect of string theory is the multi-dimensionality of our world beyond the usual 3-Space, 1-Time dimensions. Further, the challenge is mostly to envision rather than comprehend.I don't think I could recommend anything better than this book to laymen and casual science enthusiasts wishing to learn basic string theory. Brian Greene belongs to that rare pantheon of scientist-authors who have the much-needed capability to elucidate complex scientific concepts such that they are understandable to the casual reader. Even if string theory remains unproven in the coming decades, I will still recommend reading this book - it is enchanting, uplifting, and overwhelms us with the mysteries of the universe.


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.

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.

Genia Lukin

I never really got the hang of String Theory. I find it awfully weird and almost nigh-unscientific. Not being a physicist, I try not to make judgments about it, since I clearly don't understand it one bit - at least on the math level! - but I have to say that Brian Greene didn't endear it to me.I also fervently found myself wishing for the Nth time that science books were not so firmly divided between "professional, terrifying math texts" and "written for people who never figured out the Theory of Relativity". I think we need "Science for the Educated Sci-Fi Reader" or something like that. As it is, unless you're Stephen Hawking, who pretty much has the right to do anything he liked, if you're trying to explain relativity to me, again, you will put me off.


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.

Robin Wasserkaise

This book presents the latest breakdown of empirical existance with string theory- it's really well written and it sugguest how the fundimentals of all existing things come together in a very similar way as our understanding of music (little vibrations). I love this subject because, where the goal of civilization is to appreciate life in some form of organized chaos, some well spoken theorists have the ability to put things into perspective in such a way that the world seems to teem with possibility. Food for thought if you read this:
Presentism holds that neither the future nor the past exist—that the only things that exist are present things, and there are no non-present objects. Some have taken presentism to indicate that time travel is impossible for there is no future or past to travel to; however, recently some presentists have argued that although past and future objects do not exist, there can still be definite truths about past and future events, and that it is possible that a future truth about the time traveler deciding to return to the present date could explain the time traveler's actual presence in the present.[5] This view is contested by another contemporary advocate of presentism, Craig Bourne, in his recent book 'A Future for Presentism', although for substantially different (and more complex) reasons. In any case, the relativity of simultaneity in modern physics is generally understood to cast serious doubt on presentism and to favor the view known as four dimensionalism (closely related to the idea of block time) in which past, present and future events all coexist in a single spacetime.


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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