Book Review: The Trouble With Physics – Lee Smolin
“The Trouble With Physics – The rise of string theory, the fall of a science and what comes next” is a very interesting and multi-faceted book, in equal doses about particle physics and the beaurocracy and inertia present in modern physics research.
First I must say, don’t read this book as a layperson unless you’ve read something like Brief History of Time first. In my opinion this book is a decent follow-on from Universe In A Nutshell by Steven Hawking since that book touches on string theory, brane worlds etc. and this book includes a more in-depth look at the history and development of those subjects. It is assumed you already understand concepts like general relativity, the four forces and a basic knowledge of particle physics and quantum theory. On the other hand, the book contains no equations and focuses on the concepts; primarily of string theory and its alternatives such as loop quantum gravity.
Smolin is clearly very unhappy with string theory’s dominance in academia. The first part of the book reviews the major achievements in physics of the 20th century and summarises the five main existing problems, such as the unification of gravity with quantum theory. The second part devotes several chapters to explaining how string theory came about and its evolution. This discussion is on a general level; it explains many diverse theories and discoveries, sometimes quite technically, but without actually going to the nitty gritty of calculations or very precise descriptions. The third part of the book discusses problems with string theory and possible alternatives, and the final part discusses the behind-the-scenes politics of modern physics.
Taken as a whole the book is very informative both technically and sociologically, and is best targeted at the individual who knows the main concepts of particle physics, and is curious about string theory and how science research works in general. People involved in scientific academia or who are already particle physicists will probably not learn much from this book. Be cautioned though, the premise of the book is that Smolin believes that string theory is incorrect and that too much money and emphasis is placed on it, stifling the ability to research the alternatives. This is re-stated many times in the book and is somewhat repetitive in places; the purpose of Smolin’s work here is to carefully explain the foundations of string theory and then explain with rational argument why he believes it to be fundamentally flawed. He does not, I should add, state that he is right or wrong.
All in all, a very interesting read that is fairly objectively written.
Amazon link: The Trouble With Physics