The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

ISBN: 0375708111
ISBN 13: 9780375708114
By: Brian Greene

Check Price Now


Astronomy Cosmology Currently Reading Favorites Non Fiction Nonfiction Physics Popular Science Science To Read

About this book

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

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"


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.


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.


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!

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


Dr. Greene, unfortunately, imagines himself to be a much better writer and expositor than he actually is. Far too much time is wasted on silly examples to explain his points; so much that the analogies not only break down but become absurd. These concepts are not very difficult. Dr. Greene fairly well crosses the line into talking down instead of explaining things.However, this book has some rather well laid out charts and diagrams and other visual aids. Importantly these come with a gracious degree of explanation. It almost makes up for the long-windedness.The universe & Dr. Greene's charts are elegant; Dr. Greene's writing is not.

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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

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.

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.

Mely Sibbald Bissonette

Will I make it through this? Bets?

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.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *