My Goodreads Rating: 4 of 5 stars
If mathematically challenged aliens (who had somehow acquired a spacecraft) landed on Earth and requested a single book to sum up our species’ understanding of space, time, and physics, we would do best to give them The Fabric of the Cosmos.
Pop sci books on physics have a nasty habit of either aiming too general and leaving the reader with only a fuzzy sense of awe or aiming too specific and leaving the reader with a few random facts and a general confusion over how scientists can get so excited about algebra and atoms. Greene avoids both. This is hands down the best popular intro to modern physics I’ve found. Even with half a B.S. in physics and formal courses on many of the topics covered, this book consistently kept my interest and taught me new things.
Two unique aspects of this book I haven’t found elsewhere are (1) its focus on space and time and (2) its enthusiasm. As for (1), most pop sci books on physics focus on trying to convey one or more specific theories (quantum theory, special relativity, string theory, etc) and may discuss space or time in the context of one of these theories but don’t make connections between them. Greene actually makes space and time the main character of this story and follows them throughout history and across theories. As for (2), not since Richard Feynman have I found a physicist whose writing makes me shiver with childish delight at the wonders of the universe. Some might find his poetic geeky gushes cheesy, but others (like myself) will spend the next several evenings lying outside on their lawns, staring at the stars, and just basking in the awesomeness of it all.
That said, don’t expect a book without mathematics to convey a full picture of our current understanding of physics. Nature seems to be written most naturally in the language of mathematics and that is the language in which she must be read. Hopefully though, if you haven’t gotten over a particularly frightening encounter with mathematics as a young impressionable child, this book will convince you that it’s worth doing.
- are interested in modern physics but don’t know where to start
- have read a few pop sci books or many pop sci articles but want to see how many of the ideas fit together
- or curious about our past and current understanding of space and time
…then I highly recommend this book, regardless of your background.