Sunday, February 25, 2007

String theory and M-theory a Modern Introduction - reviewed

String Theory and M-Theory by Becker, Becker and Schwarz seeks to update the three or four main texts on string theory which are currently on the market. It was clear that the time was right for a new book on the subject, and this seems to hit the mark very well. I've read sections of it in detail and browsed the rest. From my point of view this is the most approachable book on the subject which doesn't shy away from getting stuck into the technicalities.

For someone learning this subject from scratch the structure of the book leads you in very nicely with a good number of well-chosen worked examples and many unworked problems at the end of each chapter which will get you familiar with the material. I think the idea of these worked examples is a good way to make sure you're really following, while not every step is spoon-fed like this.

I may sound a bit overenthusiastic, but in the few hours I've had to read through this so far I've been genuinely impressed. It doesn't go into as much detail on certain topics as you would find in Green, Schwarz and Witten, Polchinski or, unsurprisingly, Di Francesco et al (CFT), but to get you up to speed and reading cutting edge papers, I think this will do very well.

The main extensions to the previous texts are not much of a surprise: Flux compactifications, black holes in string theory and the gauge/gravity duality. There are major modern subjects which are not discussed in detail or indeed at all, for instance D-brane model building isn't covered and as far as I can tell tachyon condensation is given only a cursory mention. I'm sure there are many other important areas which are not covered extensively but once you've read the main chapters, you should be ready to learn from the more complex reviews on the topics which have been deliberately left out.

The index seems to be a little sparse, for instance you have to look for 'Anthropic Principle' to find the entire section on The Landscape. I've found another couple of similar omissions.

It is suggested that the book be used for a one year course and this seems very doable, including going through all the questions. It's not going to render the current top books dispensable but I think that for many topics the style and approach here will be much better for the first timer who finds Zwiebach too basic and Polchinski daunting on a first reading.

1 comment:

Chaos said...

You may have already seen this posted on Dmitry Podolsky's Non-equilibrium Phenomena site, but (as the author)I give you permission to repost it here.

STRINGS ATTACHED
-- James Ph. Kotsybar

Physicists foresee a utopia
(once they squint through micro-myopia)
where all of the forces of nature should
become unified and be understood.
Even in science, letting go is hard,
and notions are the hardest to divorce,
but, to reach there, they’ll have to discard
their classical point-particles of force.

While Newton works large-scale, his physics fail,
and even Einstein’s theories can’t subsist,
when applied to the sub-atomic scale.
The answers they produce just can’t exist.

Particle physics, in quantum foam, sank,
when its researchers walked the length of Planck.