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Feb 07, 2013 George

I was tired of nothing but, my main, and having only vague notions about scientific
concepts whose names are often thrown around in public discourse. And so I've
resolved to throw in a non-fiction book into my reading now and then, and, physics
representing one of the larger gaps in my knowledge, I chose to read The Elegant
Universe.
How glad I am to have read it. As it turns out, my idea of string theory was
erroneous, as was my rudimentary grasp of Einstein's theory of relativity. I wasn't
expecting to read about the latter, but it turns out that the casual understanding of
string theory that this book seeks to instill requires some understanding of relativity
and some other ideas in physics. The first chapters of the book give a crash course
on what's happened in physics since about the turn of the century, and then Greene
starts in on string theory. The Elegant Universe is therefore a wonderful resource for
any reader interested not only in an introduction to string theory but to relativity,
quantum mechanics, and (in the final chapters) the big bang.
Though I admit that other science books could have done the same, this one
rekindled in me an interest in science that's lain dormant since middle school. (I'm
now in my mid-20s). Often the book challenges the reader with somewhat dense
passages about difficult concepts, but, considering the subject matter, Greene
proves a passionate, lucid teacher.
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Greene explains relativity so I get it, quantum physics so I follow it, and string
theory so that at least I get what it explains. For me, that's pretty good.
There are a few things in the book, layman though I am, that I know are
already a little dated - he keeps referring to the age of the universe as 15
billion years, rather than 13.6 billion. Also, he talks about how some big
expansion in the moments just after the big bang would explain how the
universe is as big as it is, while gravity slows it down. The problem there is
that a couple of years ago scientists realized the expansion of the universe is
speeding up

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Brian Greene... is not Stephen Hawking. And I'm saying this only because I
would love for Greene to have Hawking's clarity when writing/explaining.
Greene says a lot of things, but doesn't say anything relevant. His storytelling
skills just aren't that good (for me). I know he tries to simplify things for the
ordinary people, people without any clues what theoretical physics is. I have
some knowledge (although I'm not an expert, and I respect Brian Greene as a
scientist) about theoretical physics, and I think I have to read more
"advanced" books about this particular branch of science.