Thursday, December 8, 2005

The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene

Title: The Elegant Universe
Author: Brian Greene
Rating: Great!

Wow. If you have any interest in physics or cosmology, read this book. Now.

My father gave it to my for my birthday a few months back. When I got to it, I discovered I was in for a treat.

The first couple of chapters give an overview of things like Relativity in a way that mostly made sense to me for the very first time. I say "mostly" because these concepts are fundamentally hard to grasp. I need to go back and read those chapters again. They were great, and they made a LOT of sense. I, however, am dense, and I was gulping the book down, rather than reading and pondering.

Then we learn about string theory: its past, present, and possible future. Wow. Greene makes this thing - which I had no real understanding of - come alive. I'd read a fair bit about it, but it was all pretty dry. Greene shows how it has grown, how it has fit into and enhanced existing theories, and where work still needs to be done. (And he's honest - there is a LOT of work that still needs to be done.)

Greene's prose is excellent, and his enthusiasm for the topic really comes through. He uses a lot of analogies to assist with the explanations, and he never bogs you down with the math. There are some hints at the math in the end notes, but the real stuff is so far out that I'm not sure how doctors Shaw and Eisworth would handle it. I suspect it would be nice to know the math, but honestly, I'd have to start all the way back at trig to get it into my brain again. And I'm the one that couldn't grasp the introduction for the layman in Doug's doctoral thesis.

Another great thing about the book is how often Greene acknowledges the people in the field. He shows just how big an enterprise string theory is, and how many people have been involved, and provides some insight into the cooperative nature of the research. There are a lot of people working on string theory, and after reading this, I hope they all get to keep at it for as long as it takes.

There is a newer book out by Greene as well, titled The Fabric of the Cosmos. I am fortunate enough to have been given that book as well, and I am looking forward to digging into it. I will put it off for a few days, though, to give me time to finish all of our holiday stuff. But then...

In all seriousness, if you have any interest in physics or cosmology, this is the book to read. From what I can tell, it provides both excellent background, history, and then follows all that up with current theory and future research directions.

Highly, highly recommended.