Book Review: Out Of This World

The second popular physics book I’ve read recently is infinitely sillier than Watson’s book on QCD. It’s called Out Of This World by Stephen Webb. Its subtitle “Colliding Universes, Branes, Strings, and Other Wild Ideas of Modern Physics” gives some idea of the author’s viewpoint, and indicates this is something to buy if you just can’t wait for this spring’s forthcoming books by Lisa Randall and Lenny Susskind.

The book is about what you would expect, promoting the glories of extra dimensions, branes, M-theory, etc. I only noticed one part of one paragraph where the author mentioned that there was no experimental evidence for any of this. On the other hand, there are dozens of poorly reproduced pictures of string theorists in their offices, which should make their parents proud. The author devotes only one page to loop quantum gravity, with the excuse that he doesn’t want to say much about it because it is just a theory of quantum gravity, not a TOE. This doesn’t really explain why he then goes on to devote chapters to other string, brane, extra dimension, etc. ideas that aren’t really TOE’s either.

The whole thing is written in a breathless “Gee, isn’t this just so kewl!” style. It’s the kind of thing John Horgan refers to as “science fiction in mathematical form”, except it’s lousy science fiction and lousy mathematics.

There’s another very similar new book out, entitled The Great Beyond by Paul Halpern. Here the subtitle is “Higher Dimensions, Parallel Universes and the Extraordinary Search for a Theory of Everything”, from which you can guess what will be in it. The author was a grad student at Stony Brook during the 80s, so knows many of the people who worked on supergravity during that period. I didn’t have the heart to spend more time with the book than a few minutes flipping through it in the bookstore.

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12 Responses to Book Review: Out Of This World

  1. D R Lunsford says:

    TL – those are hilarious 🙂


  2. plato says:

    Links to url’s

    One of the ways in which I look at links supplied without having to use search engines, was to look at how a web page is set up.

    right click mouse, and view source.

    In Thomas’s case below this link should show as:

    I have seen enough to know some are more advance in using this medium. If Peter used more pictures for instance in the mathematics he espouses he would be limited becuase of the width of his comment area.

    For him, I calculated this width to be about 360. If he stays to this width, he will not have a problem, although this must be specified beside his image url”” width=360 height=?. This depends on the percentage of the “original picture” to coordinate this width and height. A simple calculation on proportional size based on the picture seen would help.

    Hope this helps others as well. With advancements of html in these blogs one will have to learn new methods for sure, but as long as the comments area is specified, then this will control your viewing capabilties.

  3. Thomas Larsson says:

    Speaking of Stony Brook, one may want to look at the html and pdf files at

    However, Halpern´s book is not there.

  4. plato says:

    I hate to interject myself in this new found peace:)

    I sort of had a question about math minds and physics people. Can they ever get it together?

    Maybe there’s hope?:)

  5. Lubos Motl says:

    I’ve seen it, too. It’s not so bad – the photographic quality of black and white pictures simply always looks like that if you use this technology of printing. Actually a book with a hundred of figures is pretty attractive.

    CERN comes close – who’s CERN? Is it those guys who are building the accelerator 10 times smaller than mine? 😉

  6. Peter says:

    I checked the photo credits, 17 are credited to you (more than any other source, only CERN comes close).

  7. Lubos Motl says:

    I can’t argue now because I have simply not seen the book yet – and it is not even guaranteed that those pictures of mine were used. At any rate, it does not seem too important.

  8. Peter says:

    Hi Lubos,

    Sorry I didn’t check the photo credits, I should have known you were somehow involved in this.

    The pictures are mostly much too dark, so hard to see well. In any case, while we may argue about the beauty of string theory, in the case of most string theorists, I don’t think there’s much to argue about…

  9. Lubos Motl says:

    Too bad to hear that the pictures are poorly reproduced – many of them are my pictures.

  10. D R Lunsford says:

    AR – more like a theory of anything (TOA), because I can write down a KK theory for anything coming from a Lagrangian (hence having a canonical energy tensor) that can be made generally covariant – and that’s everything of interest.

    This simple fact, already known to Pauli ages ago, dooms the entire stringer approach from the start. KK theory is sham dynamics.


  11. Well, any Kaluza-Klein theory aspires to be a TOE, doesn’t it?

  12. Anonymous says:

    why do you torture yourself with these sort of books?

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