Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest
Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene
In order to get a sense of the ‘evolution’ of string theory, I chose to read the
first edition of the ‘The Elegant Universe’ for which a later edition, with a
new preface and epilogue which updates over a decade of theorisation, is
available. Greene has long been described as the best expositor of string theory
and this, his first book, has also been lauded as one of the better primers in
cosmology. This earlier edition does not disappoint on either account.
The early chapters give as good an account of the special and general theories of relativities, and their implications, as you’ll get. Quantum theory is cherry-picked for relevant aspects. Then it moves on to the development of string, brane and super-symmetry theory and the accompanying mathematical concepts of Calabi-Yau shapes. I would contend that, unless of course they are already grounded in string theory fundamentals, it is pretty much impossible for a reader to gain any more than an overview and feel for string theory from this kind of narrative based description. The strength of Greene’s book is that this overview is sufficiently complete and lucid that the reader can launch her or his own investigation. The further reading is good, if now a little dated, and the index, notes and glossary are fine. I now feel in a position to read both Greene’s later books and the work of string theories critics, such as Krauss, Smolin and Woit, to name a few of many.
frequent reference in the Notes to the “expert reader” may grate as a short cut
precluding more fulsome explanation. I will defend Greene’s need to the need to
‘sing to the choir’ as important in order to put his explanations into
perspective. The narrative he employs, partly explicatory and partly historical,
makes ‘The Elegant Universe’ one of the best popular science books ever. A
review would not be complete without noting some of the fine writing in this
book, whether it be a timeless quote from Laplace describing determinism or some
of Greene’s own vision on reaching for the stars in the final chapter.