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Gravity, Strings and Particles: A Journey Into the Unknown

Maurizio Gasperini
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Ursula Whitcher
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The back cover of this slim volume says it’s appropriate for someone without a background in physics. This is a lie. Someone truly without a physics background will be confused before the table of contents by the declaration that energy can be described in units of inverse length, and will be further disturbed on later pages by references to bosons and fermions, gravitons and neutrinos, scalar fields as physically meaningful objects, the group E8, and all sorts of other objects which Gasperini takes for granted. For a truly elementary introduction to string theory and modern theoretical physics, Brian Greene’s books or the articles on Matt Strassler’s blog, “Of Particular Significance,” are a better starting point.

However, the incomplete description of prerequisites is a failure of advertising, not of the book itself. Gasperini has written the book version of an excellent colloquium talk outlining important questions in modern theoretical physics. Experimental physicists, strong undergraduate students curious about theoretical physics, and mathematicians who wonder where theory might intersect with experiment will all find something to enjoy. Because the focus is conceptual rather than technical, one can grab a mug of coffee or a glass of wine, read a few pages, and enjoy a virtual colloquium.

This book may be particularly useful to mathematicians working in subfields adjacent to theoretical physics, such as mirror symmetry. Gasperini provides a concise overview of different types of string theory (IIA, IIB, heterotic, etc.) and the dualities between them, then links these ideas to cosmological questions about the expansion of the universe. It’s tough to find this kind of real information (as opposed to speculation about whether the M in M-Theory stands for Mysterious) outside a research article. If you’re preparing your own colloquium talk about the implications of string theory, Gasperini may provide some inspiration!

Ursula Whitcher is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.