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.