Monday, September 15, 2014

Lee Smolin - Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Quantum gravity isn’t a subject for everyone. I’ve been reading a few books on it recently and this book is the most recent. For those that don’t know, the theory of quantum gravity is one of several attempts to unify the theories that deal with large-scale things, like planets, and the theories that deal with small-scale things, like electrons and other subatomic particles. It would essentially create one theory that explains everything from the largest object down to the smallest possible particle.

I hadn’t heard of the author, Lee Smolin, before I came across this book. However, he does have a firm grasp of the subject. According to the back of the book, he’s a researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Professor of Physics at Waterloo University.

If you haven’t heard of quantum theory before, you’ll probably need to do some reading before you start this book. It’s not that the information is unclear. It’s just that you might not catch everything. It’s like trying to drive a sports car if you’ve never driven before. You’ll have to work your way up. Someone new to this kind of science in general will probably be confused after the first few chapters.

The author admits that the book is meant for the “intelligent layperson”. He hasn’t assumed a previous knowledge of the book’s subject. However, physics isn’t really what you’d call an ‘easy’ subject. Some of the stuff you may remember from high-school or college science. Much of it will be new to you.

You’re probably wondering about the three roads that the title refers to. They refer to three methods of uniting large-scale and small-scale physics. One is M Theory. (No one is really sure what the ‘M’ stands for.) Another is Loop Quantum Gravity, referred to as LQG. The third is Black-Hole Thermodynamics. The answer could be on one of these ‘roads’ or some combination of all three.

The book deals with all three. However, instead of devoting a section to each ‘road’, the book is written chronologically, which does make it easier to understand. The three areas of research have some things in common and may one day prove to be parts of the same thing.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in physics. There were a few parts that were somewhat difficult to understand, but the book as a whole was easy to read. For someone who knows at least something about physics, the book is fairly easy to understand. The chapters are very well organized and presented. The author does a good job of explaining things. The only complaint that I had was that at times, it seemed like the author was almost bragging, telling about certain things that he’s done. However, it does help to have someone that’s done work in the field, which makes feeling like that unavoidable. I’d give the book four stars. 

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