Not Even Wrong Available in the UK

Not Even Wrong, the book, is now available from Amazon in the UK. It’s being published in the British Commonwealth by Jonathan Cape, so should also at some point be available from them in Canada. Last I’d heard official publication date was June 16th, perhaps that’s the date it will be out in stores. Here in the US it will be published by Basic Books, and should appear perhaps late in September. The US version will have a rewritten and somewhat different preface, but the bulk of the two books will be pretty much the same. Next week I’ll be going over the proofs of the US version, my last chance to make any final small changes.

So, I encourage all my non-US readers to go out and get copies of the book for themselves and their 20 closest friends, write reviews saying how wonderful it is on Amazon, etc., etc. If you’re in the US and absolutely can’t wait until September, I think you can order from Amazon UK anyway (at least that’s what some of my friends desperate to appease children demanding the latest Harry Potter recall doing). In September, besides my book, Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics will also be coming out, so I guess it will be a trend. I haven’t yet seen a copy, but from conversations with him gather that Lee reaches many of the same conclusions about string theory that I do, although coming from a somewhat different direction.

Perhaps my faithful readers can help out with some advice on two points: the US version will have a somewhat different subtitle and controversy has broken out as to whether to use the phrase “the search for unity in physical law” or “the search for unity in physical laws”. Both seem all right to me, but if anyone has a strong opinion on the “law” vs. “laws” issue, let me know.

I’m about to leave town, headed to Boston for a few days, but early next week I’d like to start thinking about whether it would be possible to add some features to the blog related to the book. The obvious thing to do is to add all sorts of marketing materials to the blog to get people to go out and buy the book, but I’ll try and keep that to a tasteful minimum. No pop-ups or weekly contests. On the other hand I think it would be interesting to provide some sort of features here for people who have read or are reading the book, have questions about it, want to discuss or argue about it, etc. Does anyone know of any other blogs out there associated with a book that have tried to do something like this?

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48 Responses to Not Even Wrong Available in the UK

  1. The Anti-Lubos says:

    “Law” resonates better with “unity.” “Laws” sounds terrible. Feynman didn’t write The Character of Physical Laws.

  2. Santo D'Agostino says:

    Congratulations on the UK publication of your book, Peter!

    “Laws” is better, because the other phrase might be misconstrued as having something to do with a non-existent branch of the legal profession (you know, corporate law, criminal law, international law, and now physical law).

    I don’t find anything wrong with “The Character of Physical Laws.” Feynman’s title has a distinctly British feel to my ears, and since we are speaking about the US version of your book, that is perhaps another argument for going with “laws.” As in many arguments of this type, it is probably not worth fretting over, as either alternative will serve well.

    A solution that sidesteps the controversy, and has the merit of greater brevity, is to go with “The search for unity in physics,” but of course there may be reasons why this does not suit your purpose.

    Best wishes,

  3. Who says:

    I have to see the whole title before I can judge:
    suppose versions A and B are

    Not Even Wrong: the Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Search for Unity in Physical Laws

    Not Even Wrong: the Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Search for Unity in Physical Law

    In that case, if that is the choice, then I slightly prefer B, the latter—with the singular.
    One could say the plural is appropriate because one seeks a pattern to bring a bunch of things together—to unify several laws.
    But I still like the sound of the singular better in this context.

    I think the word “continuing” is important because if you say “the Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law” there is a danger that people could hear the message that the entire search for unity has failed. the message is that one effort failed but we continue the search. It is important to deliver that positive message (of not giving up the search) to balance the negative.

  4. wolfgang says:

    I am not a native English speaker, but “Search for Unity in Physical Law” seems to contain a contradiction.
    If there is only one law how can you *search* for unity in it?

    By the way Clifford and Lubos discussed law vs. theory recently, their ideas might help you 😎

  5. Thomas Love says:

    Since I really don’t like the use of the word “law” in physics, might I suggest “Search for Unity in Physics.”

    “Law” has the implication of a law maker and I would really not like to think of god as a lawyer.

  6. Chris W. says:

    From Amazon’s book description for Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics: “But as Smolin reveals, there”s a deep flaw in the theory: no part of it has been proven, and no one knows how to prove it.”

    To the attention of book editors, copywriters, and science journalists:
    Theories in the empirical sciences, as opposed to mathematics and logic, can be testable and tested, but they are not and cannot be proven. Got that? PLEASE do not conflate testability with the possibility of proof! In 2006, one hundred years after the advent of special relativity and the beginnings of quantum theory in the face of the success of classical physics, there is no excuse for such sloppiness.

    I really hope that the main thesis of Not Even Wrong is not presented with similar carelessness by Jonathan Cape and Basic Books in their marketing materials and dust jacket copy.

  7. David says:

    I would chose “Physical Laws” for the reason already stated — that one cannot unify a single law. The singular does suggest the kind of “one true law” that string theory set out to create but I think it would be more appropriate to say “the search for a unifying (sic?) physical law”

  8. Who says:

    Law can refer to a body of laws—-the singular can serve to cover the plural.

    Check out what it says about Smolin’s book. Any comment on the title
    “the rise of string theory, the fall of a science”
    I think the “a” is important. it is not the decline of all Science but of one particular branch: physics theory—which arguably HAS been going thru some hard times that coincided with the proliferation of string theorists. different ways to interpret this.
    I think the title is hard-hitting. which it probably needs to be at this juncture

  9. Tony Smith says:

    Peter, you say “… I think it would be interesting to provide some sort of features here for people who have read or are reading the book, have questions about it, want to discuss or argue about it, etc. Does anyone know of any other blogs out there associated with a book that have tried to do something like this? …”.

    1997 was before the blog era, but it was the year of publication of David Deutsch’s book “The Fabric of Reality”.
    IIRC, in the months leading up to its publication, he was very active in internet discussions (including usenet etc) about topics related to the book, and, according to the web page at , there was (and is)
    “… The FoR (Fabric of Reality) internet discussion list
    (Note that this is not run by me [David Deutsch], but I [David Deutsch] do contribute occasionally.)
    To subscribe, send a blank message to …”.

    He might be able to give a fairly accurate idea of how internet exposure (roughly equivalent to blogs in today’s world) affected sales etc of his book.

    As an interested customer who bought and enjoyed the book, I think that the internet exposure was useful both in clarifying points made in the book and in sales of the book.

    Tony Smith

  10. Sacha says:

    “law” sounds better – as it refers to the body of physical theories, while “laws” sounds as if it refers to the collection of individual physical theories.

  11. Dan says:

    i would imagine lubos will write an extremely negative review of both books.

  12. amanda says:

    i would imagine lubos will write an extremely negative review of both books.

    I’m betting: two stars for PW, and one for LS. Because I have this feeling that LS annoys Lubos even more than PW…..

  13. Chris Oakley says:

    I would just prefer “Why clever people sometimes do stupid things” as the subtitle.

  14. but if anyone has a strong opinion on the “law” vs. “laws” issue

    Clifford has. Last week in his blog wrote about the use of “theory” and “law”.

  15. Pingback: Gravity » Blog Archive » Nonsense published in London

  16. Lubos Motl says:

    Amanda: your predictions – including the quantitative ones – are so incredibly accurate that you could probably do string theory; see PW’s webpage now. 😉 I have not yet read Smolin’s book, and I promised him to read every single page before reviewing it in the public.

  17. Andy says:

    I checked out the site and the UK edition of NEW is now available for about CAD 31 while if I wait until September for the US version it would be less than CAD 20.

  18. Lubos Motl says:

    Dear Andy,

    if you wait until September, you will save not only CAD 11 but in fact CAD 31. 😉


  19. sunderpeeche says:

    Indeed there is now a 2-star review on the UK website. Reasonably vitriolic, but then again oil of vitriol is considered to be medicine. The 14 GeV, if true, is an error, as is 14 TeV. The LHC design beam energy (for protons) is 7 TeV leading to sqrt(s) = 14 TeV. No mention of Pierre Ramond? That is curious, but maybe corrected in the published version.

  20. Lubos Motl says:

    Sorry, I should have written the center-of-mass energy of the LHC beams.

  21. island says:

    I disagree with the idea that… “it is not the decline of all Science but of one particular branch: physics theory”.

    Physics ultimately determines everyone’s worldview of reality and their place in the universe, so this also affects the way that ohter scientists approach their fields of study as noted in the description of of my weblog and elsewhere there:

    Science In Crisis

    Good job, Peter, and it’s also good that your book is being offered together with Lee’s book on amazon U.S.

    I see that Lubos didn’t waste any time making a crackpot ass out of himself, per the usual:
    Peter Woit is the owner of a well-known blog that provides high-energy theoretical physics with the same service as William Dembski’s blog offers to evolutionary biology: it is designed to misinterpret and obscure virtually every event in physics and transform it into poison – and to invent his own fantasies to hurt science.

    Translation: Lubos’ promise to read every word of Lee’s book means that he willfully ignores every valid point that Lee Smolin makes before he misinterprets and obscurse his review to fit his own delusional fanatasies.


  22. knotted string says:

    I haven’t seen the book yet but looking at Lumos’ review, particularly the comment in the first paragraph:

    “… invent his own fantasies to hurt science. This makes Woit’s blog highly popular among the crackpots, for example the first reviewer of this book.”

    I’ve complained to Amazon about the personal remarks about other reviewers. Lumo should keep his review to scientific facts related to the book. If he is too half witted to do that, I wish Dr Oakley would issue legal proceedings for damages to his reputation based on this sort of attack.

    The danger is of course that people who have studied the problems will fear to review the book – or will do so anonymously – to avoid being personally attacked as crackpots. This is not scientific.

  23. ObsessiveMathsFreak says:

    They’re not “laws”. They’re “just theories” 😉

  24. Lubos Motl says:

    Dear knotted string,

    I am going to guarantee to have witnesses, leading physicists, ready to confirm that Chris Oakley is a crackpot if someone indeed finds this observation controversial. Nothing against Chris personally, I like him, of course, but denying the he is a crackpot sounds kind of insane to me. Where have we gotten?

    All the best

  25. Chris Oakley says:

    The stock of Crackpot Inc. has been devalued so much by the exercise of employee options by String Theorists that I am not sure that it is worth me suing. However, if anyone starts an action against me they ought to know that I will represent myself in court having realised (in my last lawsuit) that I don’t need to pay anyone to bullshit for me. I am perfectly capable of doing that for myself.

  26. knotted string says:


    Witnesses who hate Dirac and Feynman’s outlook? What have people’s opinions to do with the fact that there are real, experimentally known problems in quantum field theory and string theory just invents unobservables?

    If there were a single piece of scientific evidence for strings, all you have to do is publish that! There isn’t a shred of evidence for string theory, and you know it.

  27. D R Lunsford says:

    I’d drop the “law” part altogether. Just say “physics” instead of “physical X”.


  28. Thomas Love says:

    Well, I succumbed to your propaganda and ordered both books at amazon. I look forward to reading them. The deal from amazon comes with no strings attached! Free shipping even!

    As Chris said, scientific “laws” cannot be proven, but they can be disproven, if their predictions are contradicted by experiment. That is why string theory is not scientific, it makes no testable predictions.

  29. Ponderer of Things says:

    laws is better.
    “physics” works too, as DRL suggested.

  30. Belizean says:

    Congrats, Peter!

    “Law” sounds infinitely better to my ears.

  31. Quanta says:

    I’m unconvinced by Smolin’s title, “The Trouble With Physics”. High energy particle physics and string theory in particular might have stagnated for 30 years, but the rest of us theoretical physicists are doing fine, thanks for asking. Just look at the interesting things being done in quantum information and computation, or in statistical physics, (cond-mat is full of interesting, worthwhile papers).

    I know that many particle physicists think science revolves around them, but the rest of us don’t care that much. There is no crisis in physics over here.

  32. fishfry says:

    I’m having a hard time parsing the title. What has failed? String theory alone? Or string theory AND the search etc.?

  33. sunderpeeche says:

    Actually this is something I have noticed also, the persistent identification of HEP theory with “physics”. But there’s much more to physics than HEP (th + exp). Biophysics etc are doing well.

    Die physik stekt in der krise? Es gibt die andere physik nicht steckt in der krise.

  34. Bert Schroer says:

    particle theory is a fundamenta area of physics which for generations has supplied innovative services to other areas (condensed matter physics, and even biophysics see the contributions of Tony Zee). And string theory is more than a branch of particle physics, it is a state of mind science in an unleashed global capitalism. Just wait, it will get there too.

  35. sunderpeeche says:

    Quantum physics –> nuclear physics –> particle physics has always been an endeavor to understand matter at the most fundamental level. I have always acknowledged that. And it is a challenge worth pursuing. I have said that too (to various people, years ago, before this blog existed).

    The other branches of physics have supplied important ideas to particle physics. Spontaneous symmetry breaking arose in statistical mechanics in the context of phase transitions (~work of Phil Anderson), was adapted to HEP. The Wilson-Fisher collaboration shows that stat mech and HEP can give much to each other. HEP may be a worthy effort, but there is also much good physics that is not HEP, and they are not in crisis.

  36. Bert Schroer says:

    Sorry, the idea of spontaneous symmetry-breaking comes from Heisenberg’s investigations of the ferromagnet. I agree with you that there was a backflow from condensed matter physics, but quantum Stat. Mech. was never separated from QFT and particle theory. And fortunately you are right up to now, but probably not any more for very much much longer. Remember string theory is also a state of mind, the state of mind of a hegemon. Although within the limit of science innocent people will not loose there life (like in Bush’s war in Iraq), young physicists may for a long time (probably life-long) be deprived of that deep satisfaction which results from having contributed something permanent.

  37. sunderpeeche says:

    I knew SSB originated with the ferromagnet, didn’t realize it was Heisenberg. Anderson did some work, but I suppose it came later.

  38. Bert Schroer says:

    Many generations of physicists worked on the ferromagnet, even after Heisenberg observed the notion of spontaneous symmetry breaking. He immedeatly saw the relevance for particle physics, but the first realization in the setting of Lagrangian quantization is due to Goldstone.

  39. Thomas Larsson says:

    Spontaneous breaking of gauge symmetry with the Higgs mechanism was invented by Anderson in the context of superconductivity. I think that the idea of spontaneous (non-gauge!) symmetry breaking in ferromagnets predates Heisenberg and even Ising (who didn’t find it in 1D and therefore conjectured that it’s absent in 3D as well). Surely people (Lenz? Debye?) knew about SSB within mean-field theory.

  40. Bert Schroer says:

    Thomas Larson
    You are probably right, I take you on your word. But there should be a little bit caution since to call the Schwinger-Higgs-Anderson breaking a breaking of gauge symmetry is one of these imprecise manners of speaking (because a gauge of the second kind is a redundant description and not a genuine symmetry). I do not have any access to the literature where I am right now, so maybe you could find out whether Anderson really was before Schwinger. The citation to Schwinger you find in
    I took a considerable amount of pain to find out about the early history of the Ising model because together with Pauli’s exclusion principle it characterized pretty much the big splash by which the history of theoretical physics started in Hamburg (here you find the reference to Schwinger a second time, ref. 15):

  41. Pingback: A Quantum Diaries Survivor » Just bought Peter’s book

  42. Thomas Larsson says:

    Peter, I know that you are not into this business for the money, but maybe you should laugh all the way to the bank.

    Peter Woit: Sales Rank: 85

    Brian Greene: Sales Rank: 5,869

    Lawrence Krauss: Sales Rank: 24,280

    Leonard Susskind: Sales Rank: 26,994

    Lisa Randall: Sales Rank: 78,730

    I don’t know what the sales rank is really measuring, but that it is low cannot be a bad thing.

  43. Is the sales rank accumulative or instantateus?

  44. You can use

    to build a network of relationchips between books, based on common buy patterns. It works with amazon USA, so perhaps it does not include Woit’s book yet.

  45. Who says:

    Alejandro [Is the sales rank cumulative or instantaneous?] I think it must be based on some short time window like the past 24 hours because I see that it apparently fluctuates a lot.

    today, on Wednesday 14 June,
    Peter Woit 211
    Leonard Susskind 27,510

    but on Monday 12 June, when Thomas tried the same links, it was
    Peter Woit 85
    Leonard Susskind 26,994

  46. Ok, so it is a kind of “top ten list”, not a total sales list.

    I have seen that amazon accepts order for the newer books, as Woit’s or Smolin’s ones. If someone gets to plot an interesting touchgraph plot, please capture the screen and share with us!

    About Smolin’s, I am surprised by the cover design: it accidentaly refers to another 1960s theory, the “bootstrap”. There was, of course, some early tryes to relate string theory and bootstrap, in a couple articles of Veneziano, but I am not sure of the impact.

  47. Who says:

    Alejandro, I disagree. As I saw it, I don’t think the cover has any intentional reference to “bootstrap”. I didn’t perceive any when i first saw it. The word that is evoked is “string” (as in “shoe-strings tied together”) and not “strap”.

    there is a proverbial image of someone who is either the victim of a mean practical joke, or such a stupid klutz that he has done this to himself—-the person with their shoe-strings tied together.

    It is a proverbial image of a person in a stupid fix that they brought on themselves.

    Bootstraps are different from shoestrings and the picture doesn’t say straps.

    I think the cover-image message is two fold

    the “trouble with physics” is string-related (symbolized by shoe-strings)

    the “trouble with physics” is a stupid self-imposed predicament that could have been avoided by commonsense (keep your feet able to move independently)

  48. Hmm you are right, I had an incorrect mental picture of a bootstrap lace where it was the same lace we do with the shoestring, and no a separate lace.

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