Townhouse Books

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory And the Search for Unity in Physical Law
by Peter Woit

Book CoverIt seems like every time you look at the cover of Scientific American or Discover there's a new article on the weird and wonderful world of string theory. While your average person may not know what QED or the Standard Model are, many people who don't know anything else about particle physics can explain the subtleties of an incredibly rarefied theory.

The problem is that while string theory gets the headlines and the majority of the funding in most physics departments, there is no experimental evidence to support it and it's likely that there are not even any ways to falsify it. String theory, in its current forms, makes no predictions. Karl Popper must be spinning in his grave.

Not Even Wrong is a description of the last two decades of physics research by physicist and mathematician Peter Woit. He was working on his PhD at Harvard when the Standard Model was being finalized and String Theory was just gaining steam, so he's able to provide plenty of anecdotes about various theories and the researchers who championed them.

The book grazes some very technical issues, but Woit strikes a balance between readability and completeness.

Woit also keeps a frequently-updated blog about the subject. It's worth reading just for the comments.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Collapse/Greenlanders and Third Class Superhero

Kismet: Collapse and Greenlanders

I started reading Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond last night and was thrilled to find out that a large portion of the story is dedicated to the collapse of the Eastern and Western Settlements in Greenland about 500 years ago -- the fictionalized version of which I recently read in Greenlanders by Jane Smiley. The two books even cover some of the same characters, such as Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Bjornsdotter, who it turns out were real people. While reading the Smiley book I often wondered what historically about the settlement and decline was true. Minor efforts reading on the web didn't help much (oh, Wikipedia) so Collapse has come into my life at just the right time. More to come on that.

Failed: Third Class Superhero: by Charles Yu

I enjoyed the first chapter of Third Class Superhero, about a man whose power, "if you can call it that," is to take moisture from the air and turn it into a stream of water. The second chapter had all new characters, but I continued. The third chapter again took an entirely different turn, and I finally realized it was a book of short stories. Unfortunately, I am not in a short story reading phase and didn't like "chapters" two and three very much anyway, so I put it down.


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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ghostwritten: by David Mitchell

I don't have a lot to say about this one. Nine vaguely interlocking stories that spanned the globe. Parts of the book were exquisite, parts fascinating with their descriptiveness and creativity (I really liked the story of the transmigrating spirit in Mongolia). Other parts dragged on such that I ended up skimming the last few pages, just ready to be done. All in all though Ghostwritten is an incredible accomplishment, especially for a first novel, easy to read for its flowing prose, but hard too because of it vein of sadness that made me less inclined to pick it up each time for another sitting.


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