Short Items

  • There’s an interview with the CERN director here.
  • John Preskill and others at the Caltech Institute for Quantum Information and Mattter now have a blog here.
  • The usual summer workshop on math and physics at Stony Brook is now running at the Simons Center, see videos of talks here. Videos of talks from the Simons Symposium this spring in the Virgin Islands on knot homologies and BPS states are now available here.
  • Last month there was a CBMS conference on Unitary Representations of Reductive Groups in Boston, with David Vogan the main speaker. For a nice set of survey lectures and others, see here. If you find the Vogan conference too old-school, a workshop on categorical representation theory this coming week organized by David Ben-Zvi may be more to your liking, lecture notes starting to appear here.
  • The only thing stopping me so far from ordering a copy of Francis Farley’s novel Catalysed Fusion is that it looks like it is only available in ebook form, and I’ve until now avoided those and stuck to paper. According to an article in the Telegraph:

    …a steamy new novel written by a retired physicist lifts the lid on the organisation’s studious exterior to reveal an altogether more glamorous lifestyle of wild nights, adrenalin-fuelled sports and romantic trysts…

    Prof Farley describes a group of young researchers whose groundbreaking work and racy private lives intertwine as they enjoy the high life at Switzerland’s top ski resorts and France’s best beaches.

    Prof Farley revealed that he even based a character on himself – Ivan, a physicist and crack glider pilot who is married to a former stripper and sets up a new lab on a nudist Mediterranean island.

    He told the Daily Telegraph: “We were well paid, we had diplomatic status, no taxes. We got tax-free petrol and drinks and we went out and enjoyed life…

    “We worked hard and then some people would go home to their families but there were lots of little floozies about and other men had a roving eye, and so did some of the women.”

    Perhaps things have changed a bit since the eighties in Geneva….

  • Text books for graduate students on SUSY and string theory are coming fast and furious these days. Next month will see Peter West’s Introduction to Strings and Branes, a few months ago there was String Theory and Particle Physics: An Introduction to String Phenomenology by Ibanez and Uranga. Even more recent is Freedman and Van Proeyen’s Supergravity, which now has one review on Amazon (from “Dan”):

    This is a must-buy for every high energy theorist who wants to know Sugra. The first nine chapters also make a great source for classical field theory and can be used as a complement for PhD students learning QFT and GR.
    A wonderful work!

Update: A few more recent and upcoming string theory textbooks are:

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26 Responses to Short Items

  1. MathPhys says:

    I really want to know who ‘Dan’ is, who wrote that review of Dan Freedman’s and van Proeyen’s book.

    I must object to this salesman-like behavior that’s turning our subject into a circus act. This is science. Remember? Remember your ideals when you embarked on a career in physics? Whatever these were, they definitely were not to sell your colleagues something.

  2. Friend says:

    “Catalysed Fusion “… sounds like it might make good episode of Big Bang Theory.

    Just a joke, no offense intended.

  3. Phil says:


    I find nothing wrong with Dan’s review. Salesman-like behavior? What’s wrong with recommending a book?

  4. Peter Woit says:


    I suspect that MathPhys thinks “Dan” = book’s author, and evidently the review is rather similar to the way the author describes his own book.

    I have no idea whether it’s normal for authors to write 5 star reviews of their own books at Amazon, maybe it’s the done thing. All sorts of odd stuff goes on there; when my book came out a Harvard faculty member was offering people $20 to write bad Amazon reviews of it….

  5. MathPhys says:


    If you don’t already know, it’s pointless to explain it to you. What happened to modesty? Is shame dead? Are we salesmen now? You write a book and let people make up their minds.

  6. Alfred says:

    Update: A nice new interview with Ed Witten:

  7. voice of temptation says:

    MathPhys, that’s an interesting perspective. Would you like to be a guest on our program, “The Decline and Fall of Physics in the 21st Century”? It could lead to a new career for you, as a media personality!

  8. MathPhys says:

    Please listen to E Witten’s interview that Alfred has linked above, to hear how a scientist can describe his work, and what he strongly believes in, but modesty, and without using superlatives to describe his own contributions.

  9. Phil says:

    MathPhys and Peter,

    How do you know that this reviewer is the author? I see no evidence for it. I also skimmed through the Amazon preview of the book and didn’t see the reviewer’s statement in the book. Do you know where it is?

  10. Peter Woit says:


    I’ve heard from a reliable source that the review I quoted is very similar to the way the author describes his own book. In any case, I’m guessing that the author is not trying to hide his own identity, since he is using his own name “Dan”. If he were trying to hide behind a pseudonym, he’d use a different name. Again, I’d be curious to hear from anyone who knows more about Amazon reviews: are author self-reviews using their own name common? For all I know, there’s no rule against it. A few minutes of Googling turned up no rule of this sort.

  11. David Appell says:

    Geez MathPhys, lighten up. If a textbook author can’t give himself a little one-paragraph boost on Amazon, what’s the world coming to? In this day and age authors need all the help they can get, or before long these kind of books might not even exist anymore.

  12. Q.I. says:

    I think it is okay for authors to write a review of their own book, however, IMHO, they must identify themselves as authors. It appears “Dan” has not done that. Reviewer rating is an important consideration for me to buy books from Amazon and I think I should know if the person writing the review is actually an author.

  13. Nadja Summer says:

    I´m still dreaming to visit the CERN in Switzerland, you may also check out this interesting interview with Dr. Paul Jackson on

  14. MathPhys says:

    Q. I.

    Definitely. An author can say “I wrote this book and I think it’s the best book that x, y and z can buy for this and that reason”. All above counter, and nothing at all wrong with that.

  15. Chris Oakley says:

    when my book came out a Harvard faculty member was offering people $20 to write bad Amazon reviews of it

    With (approx) 1,000 String theorists maybe it was his inability to pay the $20,000 bill that caused Lubos to flee the country. I do not remember seeing that many reviews, though.

  16. Christian says:

    I’ve gotten all curious. Is the book any good? I already skimmed the Amazon preview, but that does not tell me whether the book is pedagogical and the exercises useful. I’m a PhD student in accelerator physics, and would like an introduction to the subject.

  17. MathPhys says:


    I personally expect that Freedman and van Proyen will be a standard reference work on supergravity. I don’t know of any other textbook on the subject, except Peter West’s which hasn’t appeared yet. At 600 pages and $65, it’s reasonably priced (for a CUP hardcover) and clearly geared towards students.

  18. KK says:

    If that Farley in the fifth bullet is the Farley from g-2, then he is the guy who in the 60s-80s was well known for participating in the ladies program (“accompanying persons” were ladies then). And I know ladies who found him a nuisance. So I guess that “his steamy new novel” contains his dreams rather than reality.

  19. Hugh says:

    Ive read Catalysed fusion. It’s quite fun rather a mish mash. Quite a bit of male fantasy sex. The physics while clearly impossible (involving very low mass high spin leptons) is also fun and coherent. Some of the experimental stuff is well described. It’s not Proust but may be almost a male equivalent of 50 shades of grey with added physics (and gliding).

  20. SteveM says:

    Having worked about half way through Freedman’s book this year I can honestly say it is a truly excellent and beautiful textbook. Very well written and organized with everything laid out and explained very clearly and precisely, in what is generally a difficult subject that can often become messy and confusing. As you progress through the chapters, you see it all coming together before your eyes and the basic universal structure of SUGRA becomes apparent. The material in the first half of the book alone is worth the asking price. Excellent treatments of field theory, Clifford algebras and fermions, Rarita-Schwinger fields, basic SUSY, gauge symmetries, differential geometry, spin connections etc. etc. Highly recommended.

  21. Gilgit says:

    Since you are talking about text books I wanted to ask a question. I have started going through various physics text books again after a long time away and have reached quantum mechanics. I have plenty of Quantum Mechanics books to choose from, but I always planned to skip anything on String Theory since it seemed so half baked.

    But in a few posts a week or two back, Peter commented on how String Theory, when stripped of all the hype, “that there’s a case to be made for string theory research based on other things it has led to”, spin-offs he called them (this was in response to Bob Jones comment quoting Witten saying: string theory has helped us better understand theories we already have).

    I must admit to being totally ignorant of this. Do any of the text books you’ve listed or can buy on Amazon on String Theory cover these areas? I had assumed the texts were all about untestable unification theories combined with ridiculously advanced math and so never intended to look at them.

    I’ve been slowly covering a lot of physics and math and expect to keep going till I’ve covered a whole lot more and at some point I might run into these areas so I thought I’d ask what some of these ‘spin-offs’ are called. I’m not looking for an in depth description of them, just some terms and maybe: this QM book talks about such and such or this ST book actually mentions something useful.

    Or is this a dumb question and all the introductory string theory books cover this? Or is the only way I’d encounter any of these topics is if I read dozens of advanced research papers that only 50 people in the whole world can understand?


  22. MathPhys says:

    It’s too bad, but all stringy textbooks that I know of are devoted to perturbative physics, model building, etc. Some discuss blackholes in string theory and so forth, but that’s not the sort of thing that Peter W had in mind.

  23. Peter Woit says:


    Mostly the string theory textbooks don’t cover the mathematically interesting parts of the subject, but focus on trying to explain the failed unification stuff. One of the most interesting areas of spinoffs from string theory is work on 2d conformally invariant qfts. There are several advanced graduate level textbooks that focus on this, one example is

    di Francesco, Mathieu, Senechal Conformal Field Theory

    Two other good books covering some of this math/physics are

    Fuchs, Affine Lie Algebras and Quantum Groups
    Gannon, Moonshine Beyond the Monster

    For a different interesting area of mathematical physics coming out of string theory, see
    Vafa and Zaslow, eds. Mirror Symmetry


  24. Bob Jones says:


    I’m glad you brought this up again because I think there’s a lot of confusion among the general public about this aspect of string theory. Unfortunately, popular books and string theory textbooks don’t help the situation because they focus primarily on unification. The only exception I know of is the book by Vafa, Zaslow, et al. that Peter mentioned, but you’ll need to know a bit of quantum field theory and algebraic geometry before you’ll be able to read it.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to dive into string theory without the proper background. There are so many other fascinating topics to learn about which are much more firmly established than string theory. I would start by learning quantum mechanics (the book by Griffiths is the standard text) and then try to learn some basic quantum field theory and relativity (see for example the book by Zee and the one by Baez and Muniain). Eventually you’ll be able to read more advanced books on quantum field theory and string theory (like the two volumes published by the IAS).

    If you just want to learn more about applications of string theory, there several accessible introductions on the internet. For example, see

  25. Gilgit says:

    Hey, that’s nice of you guys. I appreciate the references and links.

    And I certainly plan on going through many different Quantum Mechanics/Field Theory books. I’ve spent the past year on Amazon poking around. An amazing resource – the reviews (taken with a grain of salt) will let you know which are the most popular books, which are the classics, what are the other books at the same level as this one, comparing several books on the same topic, etc.

    And the lists Amazon has – one guy taught himself General Relativity and then wrote up 7 lists comparing books on General Physics, Math for Physics, Special Relativity, General Relativity, Differential Geometry, Tensors… specifically from the point of view of a self learner.

    And the internet has a fair number of solutions manuals – either written by grad students or official ones – to many physics texts (including Griffiths, Sakurai, and a few other QM books).

    In fact one professor in France wrote the solutions, in English, to every problem in “A First Course in General Relativity” (Schutz) and posted it for anyone to download. He even added a few more intermediate problems designed to help students figure out how to do the more complicated problems.

    The reason I brought it up (boy am I off topic now) is that I kind of figured there would be lots of people who posted solutions to popular texts. Kind of like how in the olden days people would write commentaries on Greek Philosophers or on Confucius and then other people would write commentaries on commentaries, etc. Seems like an easy way to get noticed. Similar to budding programmers writing useful open source programs… but it hasn’t happened so maybe what I think is a good idea isn’t as good as I thought.

    At least there are quite a few published problem books out there – books with hundreds of problems with full solutions. I’ll bet there are at least 5 or 6 Quantum Mechanics books like that now. Plus others on Field Theory, Differentiable Manifolds/Riemannian Geometry – searching on Amazon I even found “Problem Book in Relativity and Gravitation” with hundreds of GR problems from 1975! Who knew?

    So if I really get stuck I believe there are resources out there to get me going again. I’m sure it will take only 5 or 10 years or so to learn all of this, but at least I think it’s possible.

    Thanks again.

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