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The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory [Abridged] [Audio Cassette]

Brian Greene
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (383 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 2000
Brian Greene, one of the world's leading string theorists, peels away layers of mystery 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. The Elegant Universe makes some of the most sophisticated concepts ever contemplated accessible and thoroughly entertaining, bringing us closer than ever to understanding how the universe works."
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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There is an ill-concealed skeleton in the closet of physics: "As they are currently formulated, general relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right." Each is exceedingly accurate in its field: general relativity explains the behavior of the universe at large scales, while quantum mechanics describes the behavior of subatomic particles. Yet the theories collide horribly under extreme conditions such as black holes or times close to the big bang. Brian Greene, a specialist in quantum field theory, believes that the two pillars of physics can be reconciled in superstring theory, a theory of everything.

Superstring theory has been called "a part of 21st-century physics that fell by chance into the 20th century." In other words, it isn't all worked out yet. Despite the uncertainties--"string theorists work to find approximate solutions to approximate equations"--Greene gives a tour of string theory solid enough to satisfy the scientifically literate.

Though Ed Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study is in many ways the human hero of The Elegant Universe, it is not a human-side-of-physics story. Greene's focus throughout is the science, and he gives the nonspecialist at least an illusion of understanding--or the sense of knowing what it is that you don't know. And that is traditionally the first step on the road to knowledge. --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

One of the more compelling scientific (cum-theological) questions in the Middle Ages was: "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" Today's version in cutting-edge science is, "How many strings... ?" As posited by s tring theory physics, strings are furiously vibrating loops of stuff. The concept of strings was devised to help scientists describe simultaneously both energy and matter. The frequency and resonance of strings' vibration, just like those of strings on an instrument, determine charge, spin and other familiar properties of energy?and eventually the structure of the universe: a true music of the spheres. There's a chance that strings are themselves made up of something still smaller. But scientists can prove their existence only on the blackboard and computer, because they are much too tiny?a hundred billion billion times smaller than the nucleus of an atom?to be observed experimentally. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Cornell and Columbia universities, makes the terribly complex theory of strings accessible to all. He possesses a remarkable gift for using the everyday to illustrate what may be going on in dimensions beyond our feeble human perception. Just when we might be tempted to dismiss strings as grist for the publish-or-perish mill, Greene explains how they have demonstrated connections between mathematics and physics that have helped solve age-old conundrums in each field. This book will appeal to astronomy as well as math and physics fans because it probes the important insights string theory gives into hotly debated issues in cosmology. Later chapters require careful attention to Greene's explications, but the effort will prepare readers to follow the scientific advances likely to be made in the next millennium through application of string theory. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Toe central problem of physics today revolves around this conundrum: Gravity is governed by Einstein's relativity theory, which requires that space-time is smooth. Gravity has been experimentally verified. Atomic forces are govered by quantum mechanics, which requires that space-time is bumpy, foamy, and irregular. These atomic forces have been experimentally verified.
How can space time be smooth for gravity, and yet be bumpy for quantum machanics? Enter string theory.
This book is a terrific introduction not only to string theory, but to relativity and quantum mechanics as well. The first half of the book reviews the history and development of these theories, since they are a fundamental component of string theory. In particular, Greene's treatment of relativity uses some outstanding analogies to explain time dilation and gravitational warping. I thought I understood the basics of relativity; this book still taught me a few things.
Analogies are this author's strength. He uses them at every step to avoid the need to complex mathematical formulae. There are no formulae in this book (some will think that a minus, but I view it as a plus.) Using analogies, he's able to provide a comprehensible view of what 10-dimensional spacetime would be like, and how expanding one of the other dimensions might affect life in the Universe. These 5 pages alone are probably worth the price of the book.
If you want a glimpse of one of the cutting-edge areas of particle physics research without needing to study math for 10 years, this book can give it to you.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of superstrings was limited to passing references in magazine articles and that time the Enterprise hit one in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wondering if I needed to get superstring coverage added to my auto-insurnance, I picked up this book. Needless to say, this was the book for me. Through insider knowledge and well conceived analogies, the basic premise of superstrings comes through clearly. I finished the book knowing enough about superstrings to sound smart at the comic book store while in reality my head painfully throbs at the thought of a 11-D space-time continuim. Not a pretty picture. The highlight of the book was the primer on old school quantum mechanics and general relativity. I wish Mr. Greene had written the textbooks for some of my physics classes. He very deftly tells the story of 20th century physics, setting up the reader for the stringy things to come. After reading the book, I was left wondering if string theory is really the end all/be all of physics or cold fusion's distant cousin, but at least I don't have to change my car insurance.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars we have two different audiences! Sept. 17 2003
After reading the preceeding reviews, there seems to be a bisection of readers. They fall roughly into two categories; The layman\non-scientist and those who have a generous breadth of knowledge in mathematics and\or physical science. (sidenote: although individuals and universities debate it from time to time, mathematics is not validated by scientific experiment, and thus should be considered as a different class of study.)

For the layman, this book will provide a very basic and intuitive framework for classic and modern physics, and take the previously unknowing individual through a more or less simple tour of some of the results and ideas of string theory. If you dont know anything about physics\mathematics, then this journey should be a pleasurable one, and might even grab enough interest that you pursue a more rigorous treatment of some mathematical or physical speculation or phenomena. Reader be warned, however, that Professor Greenes very charasmatic and enthusiastic approach might be enough to make you too a believer in the validity of this theory,and that it answers the discrepancy between relativity\quantum mechanics, which is popularly coveted as "the problem" of modern physics. The problem is large, but realistically only occupies a very small group of most scientists\mathematicians time. For those who have never encoutered the hilbert vector space, this book provides some information about one of the more exciting ideas in science today, but take it with a grain of salt. The "secrets of the universe" are more abundant in a rigorous treatment of analytic mechanics than in a superficial treatment of something so enticing, yet esoteric.

For those that have been introduced in gross detail to the world of science today...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read Jan. 3 2013
By Kijiji
This was one of the few books (less than 5 probably) that really changed the way I viewed the world. It enriched my understanding and appreciation of the universe in which I live. It even in a way allowed me to feel closer to God. As a lay person with no more than 1 semester of university level physics under her belt, I very much appreciate Mr Greene's efforts in writing this book and making a new world accessible to me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great way of explaining advanced physics Jan. 16 2014
By 4th'n20
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great read for anyone who is curious about ideas regarding the Universe and Cosmos. Great real world examples used to explain theories.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! (for any level). May 10 2013
By Ruben
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a fantastic book! Great read for anyone of any level education in physics interested in understanding the workings of modern physics. This book is written in a clear informative way that is easy to follow (has some technical points, but overall very clear).

Recommend reading Brian Greene's following books; "Fabric of the Cosmos", and "Hidden Reality". You will not be disappointed!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars As yet unread
I have several other books on the go right now and got this book as part of a number on this topic - have only thumbed through it and am looking forward to actually reading.
Published 18 months ago by Marina Mactavish
5.0 out of 5 stars The Elegant Universe
Have not finished reading it, but so far, so great!! Easy to understand, and utterly fascinating. I love the universe!
Published 19 months ago by monica
4.0 out of 5 stars A detailed and enlightening book on string theory
Okay I have to admit that some of the discussion in this book is over my head, way over my head. But having said that the bulk of what is discussed is of interest. Read more
Published 20 months ago by fastreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Book, "the elegant universe"
I hoped that this very valuable book will come in good condition. It certainly did , it was new ; even the cover was spotless and undamaged. Read more
Published on May 4 2012 by Frank
5.0 out of 5 stars For Anyone Willing to Apply Themselves!
The words which Robert Jungk used to describe J.R. Oppenheimer are, I think, equally applicable to Brian Green. Read more
Published on Aug. 9 2011 by Eternal Decree
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for laypeople with an appetite for adventure and...
Brian Greene is at least as elequent as his subject is elegant. For laypeople such as myself, who may be afraid to venture into the depths of the mysteries of our universe largely... Read more
Published on April 6 2009 by James R. Cable
2.0 out of 5 stars needed more about the elegant universe
This books is over-rated, but still better than most books on the subjects he covers. I gave it two stars to get your attention. It is actually a 3 or 4 star book. Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by quietstorm
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly Clear
I was very pleased early into the reading of this book. This was for example, the clearest explanation that I have ever read on the topic of time dilation in relativity. Read more
Published on June 11 2004 by Garry Burgess
3.0 out of 5 stars Nick's Review
There is an ill-concealed skeleton in the closet of physics: "As they are currently formulated, general relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right. Read more
Published on May 20 2004 by Ahmed O'Toole
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