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The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality





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About the book:

Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos with its questions about the limits of space and time and the texture of reality certainly looks a bit daunting to the uninitiated. Cosmic ripples, 11 dimensions to the universe and string theory that is somehow connected to a "Theory of Everything" are all a bit alien if you never really got to grips with Newton, let alone Einstein. It might look very heavyweight, but Greene is an excellent communicator and what he's writing about is perhaps the greatest intellectual challenge we face.

There is no doubt that speculation about the nature of the heavens is very ancient. After centuries of thought "we still can only portray space and time as the most familiar of strangers". But enormous advances in understanding have been made especially over the last few decades. Whether we are high-flying city slickers or impoverished cattle-herders in the third world, speculation about space-time "takes on an almost mystical quality: we're considering the fate of the very things that dominate our sense of reality" according to Greene.

Over the last century we have become much better acquainted with previously hidden features of the Universe, especially thanks to Einstein. Greene summarises these as

"the slowing of time, the relativity of simultaneity, alternative slicings of spacetime, gravity as the warpings and curving of space and time, the probabilistic nature of reality, and long range entanglement were not on the list of things that even the best of the world's nineteenth-century physicists would have expected to find just around the corner."
And yet they are attested to by both experimental results and theoretical explanations. Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, is one of the foremost players in contemporary string theory and authored a bestselling book The Elegant Universe for which he won the Aventis Prize in 2000.

In The Fabric of the Cosmos Green avoids mathematical formulae, which can be an immediate turnoff for most general readers. Clearly he knows that visually we can deal with abstract and/or difficult concepts much better than when they are presented in words. Consequently, he uses a very clever selection of excellent and well designed illustrations to help get his ideas across. There is an excellent index, plenty of notes and suggestions for further reading, which will allow those more in the know to take matters further. And, there is a glossary for us ordinary mortals who need every now and again to check up on our understanding of things such as quarks, Higgs particles, braneworld scenario and M-theory. --Douglas Palmer

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