Two reviews by physicists of my book and Lee Smolin’s have recently appeared.
The first is by David Lindley in the Wilson Quarterly. Lindley has written some excellent popular books about physics, including one about quantum mechanics entitled Where Does The Weirdness Go?, and he has a new one about the history of the uncertainty principle that I look forward to reading. He is also the author of The End of Physics: The Myth of a Unified Theory, which appeared back in 1993, and was the first popular book I know of that explained that the project of finding a unified theory of particle physics had started to run into trouble and was not making progress. In some ways Lindley’s book was a precursor to John Horgan’s later The End of Science, and Horgan acknowledges Lindley’s influence. Lindley notes that I say a bit about his book in mine, saying I misstate one of his arguments. He has to be right about this, so I’m rather curious to know what I got wrong (an internet search shows that he has been pretty successful at keeping his e-mail address non Google-accessible, so I haven’t yet contacted him to ask him about this). His description of the books is reasonably accurate and straight-forward, and he ends with the following observation:
As for string theory, it’s likely to unravel only when its practitioners begin to get bored with their lack of progress. Like the old Soviet Union, it will have to collapse from within. The publication of these two books is a hopeful sign that theoretical physics may have entered its Gorbachev era.
December’s Physics Today has a review of the same two books by Kannan Jagannathan, under the title Scrutinizing string theorists and their future. One unusual aspect of the review is the peculiar description of the reviewer, unlike any I’ve ever seen before in Physics Today:
Kannan Jagannathan is a professor of physics at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Though his background is in high-energy theory, he has no strong stake or expertise in string theory.
It’s an indication of the highly partisan nature of the controversy these books have stirred up that Physics Today seems to have found it necessary to include this sort of unusual disclaimer. It appears true that Jagannathan is no partisan, but his disclaimer of expertise on the subject covered by the books is associated with a rather superficial take on the arguments these books are making. His only attempt to evaluate whether there is anything to the claims Smolin and I make about the problematic behavior of some string theorists is to have read Lisa Randall’s recent popular book Warped Passages, and found that she doesn’t seem to share our concerns.
While avoiding saying anything about the substance of my arguments, Jagannathan does take exception to the style of some of them, suggesting I should use more “temperate rhetoric”, and avoid “anecdotes and private communications.” Perhaps he’s right that tactically it would have been better for me to write a more impersonal book, bending over backwards to appear to not be expressing personal opinions. For better or worse, I chose to do something quite different; to write a very personal book, expressing precisely what I think, and describing experiences that have led me over the years to these opinions.
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