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

ISBN: 0375708111
ISBN 13: 9780375708114
By: Brian Greene

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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


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?


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.

Jared Della Rocca

This book could easily be split into two sections: the first half devoted to general physics ideas, cosmology (black holes) and the progression of physics throughout history; the second half is string theory.The first half, though at times a bit harder to follow (I often found I just had to accept the arguments being made in order to understand the implications), presents some fascinating ideas. For instance, I was particularly interested in the passage on black holes and the event horizon. Because of the extreme gravity, time literally slows down on the event horizon. Therefore if a person were able to sit on the event horizon of a black hole for a year, when they returned to earth, something like 700 years will have passed. ACTUAL time travel! Another interesting insight is the relation between space and time. Traveling through time (as we do) can be seen as akin to traveling through spatial dimensions. If you were to travel at 60 miles an hour (1 mile per minute) directly north, you would reach a point 60 miles from the start in one hour. But if you went west and east a little bit, despite traveling the same speed, it would take you longer. (Nothing shocking there). Utilizing that analogy, traveling through our world is akin to moving north and south, with time being east and west. Therefore if we were to move at the speed of light, using all energy to move north and south, NO TIME WOULD PASS! All our energy would be utilized in moving in that direction literally allowing no time to pass. Fascinating!Of course, there was also the second part: string theory. Each page found me understanding less and less and becoming less and less interested. Brian Greene is supposed to be the Everyman Physician, but even his descriptions were often beyond my imagination. Likewise, as a strong proponent of the theory, Brian Greene often considers it the ultimate theory in his book, despite relatively little empirical evidence of such.If you are interested in string theory, black holes, etc. I'd highly recommend checking out NOVA, which Brian Greene worked with to present these theories in visual form.

Younes ben amara

لنقل ان الفيزياء تنقسم الى نظريات .فيزياء كلاسيكة ، فيزياء حديثة .الفيزياء الكلاسيكة تفسر الكون على اساس معادلات نيوتن وهي صادقة لحد كبير في التنبوءات ومازالت تستعمل وتدرس في المدارس لحد الآن.الحديثة تنقسم الى عدة اقسام : نظرية النسبية العامة والخاصة . نظرية الكم ، نظرية الاوتار الفائقة التي ادعت انها جمعت كل النظريات السابقة ..هناك ايضا سيناريوهات اخرى منها نظرية –ام و عدة اقتراحات اخرى تسمى بنظريات كل شيء ..ان رأيت ان الامر صعب –كما ظهر لي من قبل – فاقرا كتاب (الكون الانيق ) لبرايان غرين ويكفيك ذلك لكي تفهم كل هاته المصطلحات حتى لو كانت ثقافتك الفيزيائية عادية ، ان كنت تريد الفهم حقا فزد اطلع على سيتفن هونكينغ في' الكون في قشرة جوز' .وكتاب من الذرة للكوارك ..والمنظمة العربية للترجمة باشراف الدكتور جابر عصفور فعلت خيرا باخراج كل هاته الروائع بصفة ممتازة جدا ..الكون الانيق كتاب ممتاز جدا لدرجة كبيرة ولو كانت لي القدرة لجعلت كل الذين يدرسون الفيزياء يقرئونه اجباريا بدل الكتب البيداغوجية التافهة التي توزع عليهم ..لقد قال (هل وجود الجسيمة الأولية نهاية الطريق ؟ ابدا، انها بداية الطريق –الطويل – نحو بناء نظرية كل شيء).انا اعتقد ان كل الفيزيائيين الذين مارسوا معادلات الكم و مجال هيغز والنموذج المعياري للجسميات والنسبية ونظرية الاوتار الفائقة وطول بلانك ومعادلات شرونديجر .. مؤمنون بالله في اعماق انفسهم ..انه كون باهر لدرجة لا تصدق انه رائع ومدهش ومميز وليس عشوائيا .. ممتعا مسليا ممتازا غامضا مليئا بالاسرار مشوق مثير وكل الصفات الرائعة التي تجعلك متحمساً ..لذا لا غرابة في ان سمى كتابه (الكون الانيق (..انه ببساطة كذلك ..من مقال لي : بوزون هيغز : الرابط للمقال الكامل هنا :


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.


Awe-inspiring, mind-boggling, paradigm-shattering, head-scratching. Like other theoretical physics writers for the general public, Greene assiduously (and mercifully) leaves out any whiff of the formulas and calculations underpinning the theories; still, tracking the explanations can be breathtakingly difficult, and I confess to being unpleasantly lost more often than I'd care to admit. Greene's gift is his ability to find the right metaphor, or the right thought experiment, to elucidate the subject. This book is an excellent intermediate layperson's guide to String Theory, but I would have preferred a beginner's guide, with more of the big picture stuff and fewer details. The book was at its best when the author explored the bizarre implications of the multiplicity of dimensions made theoretically possible--and likely--under the framework of String Theory. BTW, unbelievably, this book was available on Amazon as an e-book for two dollars! That's pretty amazing for a best-selling book like this.


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!

Mely Sibbald Bissonette

Will I make it through this? Bets?


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.


Do I understand string theory? Not sure.Do I understand M theory? A little bit but don't ask for any algebraic reasoning.Do I know exactly what a Calabi-Yau is? Not really but I think they look a little like the hair balls from my cat.This is the second time I've equated quantum physics and all its detours to a hair-ball. That's because I can study a hair ball and still have no idea what it is for and why they exist. String Theory and the elusive TOE is in the same category. I could go on my entire life not knowing about them but now that I do, I need to know why. Newton, Einstein, Feynman, Hawking, and my cat can't all be right. Or can they?That is essentially the dilemma of string theory and the book. Greene does a great job of putting everything in layman's term but there is a point which he must exceed the intellectual ionosphere and soar into the incalculable. I really like this type of book. The challenge is the fun. But rest assured when the scientists get their act together and write an Idiot's guide to The Unified Theory Of Everything, I'll be the first in line.P. S. Hair balls and string theories have something else in common. Once you tore one apart, you can never get your hands clean.

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.

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.

Riku Sayuj

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

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"

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