Unfortunately I don’t have time now to write about the three following books at the length that they deserve, but here are some quick comments on three books worth your attention:
- A carefully produced detailed write-up of Sidney Coleman’s Harvard Physics 253 quantum field theory course has now been published by World Scientific. This course was taught by Coleman off and on from the mid-seventies until 2002, and the book is based on various sets of video recordings and lecture notes (including a copy of my lecture notes from when I attended the class). A huge amount of work by various people has gone into producing a very high quality book. David Derbes has some comments here, and he is perhaps the main person to thank for seeing this project through to completion.
David Kaiser has contributed an introduction to the book (available here, or, if this doesn’t work, try here) which does an excellent job of putting the material in historical and intellectual context, as well as describing what Coleman was like and why he had a huge influence on several generations of Harvard students. If you’ve already spent a lot of time learning QFT from various modern textbooks, your reaction to much of this one may be “that’s the standard way of explaining that point, nothing unusual here.” Keep in mind that often the reason that’s now the standard way of explaining things is that many authors of modern textbooks learned the subject from Coleman (or from someone who learned it from Coleman…).
- Jim Baggott has a very good new book out, entitled Quantum Space, which could roughly be described as a popular account of loop quantum gravity at the level of the account of string theory in books like Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe. Baggott has spent a lot of time talking to Carlo Rovelli and Lee Smolin, and one of the best aspects of the book is the way it conveys their personal stories, intellectual journey, and current outlook on the subject.
One unavoidable topic that Baggott covers is the relation of string theory and LQG as competing (or perhaps someday collaborating?) approaches to the problem of quantum gravity. Due to long ago experience (to get an idea, watch this), I’ve long ago lost patience for arguments about which approach is “better”. Baggott’s take on the issue seems fair to me, but if you really want to engage in that argument it will have to be elsewhere than the comment section here.
- Finally, the new book you really should buy a copy of is my brother Steve’s Fly Fishing Treasures. He has been working on it for years, and it includes the most amazing beautiful pictures of antique fly fishing equipment in existence, as well as a wealth of information about those who collect these things. OK, if you, like me, aren’t especially excited about the topic of fly fishing, then buy a copy as a present for someone who is.
Update: If you’ll be at the March APS meeting in Boston, I hear there’s a book launch for the Coleman book, 1:30pm-2:15pm Weds. March 6, at the World Scientific booth in the exhibition hall.
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