|The Fabric of the Cosmos|
|summary||A capsule review of current conceptions of the world of space and time, and enough background for laymen to understand how they came to be.|
Now, when I say "easy," this is, like so much of Greene's book, relative. It's taken me three weeks to wade through the concepts and often humorous prose that goes along with them. Being something of a physics geek, I have a basic concept of relativity and quantum mechanics. Greene takes his time laying out classical physics, from Newton to Einstein, exploring the version of the universe presented by the laws of the very large. He then dedicates just as much room enumerating the precepts of the standard model as well as those of quantum mechanics. With these two pillars of modern physics established, we are next whisked on a journey through cosmology, delving further and further back into the history of the universe until both quantum mechanics and relativity break down and we are introduced to strings.
Greene's attention to strings does not overwhelm the book, as in The Elegant Universe, and he doesn't delve deeply into the concepts and math behind any of the theories of physics as in the latter half of his earlier text. What he does present is a very good conceptual overview of modern physics, all the while using the frameworks provided to drive at the central question: What are space and time? (Or "spacetime" as relativity puts it).
This sophomore effort is actually better, I believe, than The Elegant Universe. Greene has a way of explaining things in terms that non-physicists can grasp. His use of pop-culture icons to drive his points home are as masterful as they are funny. It would be my bet that should this book be made into its own television special (and it should) it will have to be a joint work by PBS and Fox. After seeing Greene present his Elegant Universe on PBS, and reading this book, I'm beginning to see him as a new Carl Sagan, or perhaps the illegitimate love child of Sagan and Matt Groening, if such a thing were possible.
In the end, though, the book has left me with more questions than answers. To be sure, Greene and the theories that he covers provide answers, but to conceptualize and understand them is my current difficulty. I'm sure that some of my own problems arise from learning through allegory. Not having the mathematical background to understand these concepts on a more fundamental level is, I'm sure, leading to my own habit of taking an allegory too far. Would the book benefit from a deeper analysis of physics? I don't think so. To take things much deeper would lose those of us without a deep rooting in mathematics. If anything, Greene's work should inspire us to learn more, to grasp the concepts at a deeper level, to understand them in a more fundamental way, if this is indeed possible with the strange world of quantum mechanics.
Greene does delve into what the future of physics could hold. This is, in my opinion, the weakest part of the book. While it is interesting to be exposed to what the 'next big thing' could be, without the grounding that Greene enjoyed in the previous four sections of the book the final chapters prove less fulfilling than the ones that worked towards them. It's not that Greene doesn't explain the concepts expertly, but knowing that we're reading about a theory that hasn't even been fully formed, that is only a step away from speculation, means they don't stand as tall as the previous chapters. People may say this about string theory as well, because it is still very much an evolving theory.
Still, this accounts for no more than the denouement of an otherwise thrilling, work. Having traveled once again with Greene on a journey through physics I can say that I understand what Feynman meant when he spoke of The Pleasure of Finding Things Out; thankfully Greene is a good bit easier to follow than Feynman.
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