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Popular Books on Quantum Gravity

  1. Mar 15, 2010 #1
    Hey I'm writing a paper on the problems that arise between general relativity and quantum mechanics and was wondering if anyone had any good recommendations on the topic in terms of books?

    I'm not looking for textbooks that delve into all of the mathematics of string theory or anything like that -- just books for the (somewhat) scientific literate.

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  3. Mar 15, 2010 #2


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    Chapter 1 of Carlo Rovelli's book Quantum Gravity is non-mathematical. It is written in clear English for the general reader with, as you say, some scientific literacy.
    A draft copy of the book is available free online at Rovelli's website, by agreement with the publisher (Cambridge U. Press). That means if you just want to read a chapter or two you don't have to buy the book! Nice of Cambridge press to allow this.


    There are some other parts of the book, parts of chapters and some appendices at the end, which are non-mathematical and accessible to general reader. You just have to look for them. Use the index.

    From page 287 to 300 there is an appendix giving a good short history of all the attempts to get a quantum gravity from 1930 thru 2000. Rovelli is a science historian as well as a theorist. It can be cool to know a little of the history.
    Also Chapter 2 is in large part accessible and gives a conceptual intuitive feel for how General Relativity is different from physics theories which depend from the start on a fixed spacetime geometry. That helps understand the problem.

    I'd say you might get something from the first 50 pages, and the history-of-QG appendix at the end.


    Rovelli's book is not actually a popularization. It is intended as an authoritative treatment of the subject for advanced grad students and professional researchers. It just happens that parts are real clear and straightforward, so accessible to a wider audience. But I realize you were asking about popularizations.

    There is a popularization written earlier, called Three Roads to Quantum Gravity, by Lee Smolin. I haven't given it a thorough reading, but I think it is pretty good. Parts may be dated. He wrote it when he was more optimistic about string theory. So string is one of the three "roads" discussed in the book.

    In 2006 (after the string Landscape problem was recognized, the fact that there was a plethora of different solutions and no apparent way to find one that matches our world) Smolin came out with another popular book The Trouble with Physics. This discusses the reasons that quantum gravity is a challenging problem. It might help you with your paper in that sense. You asked about popular books. TTwP has become really popular. It is still selling comparatively well after over three years on the market. But it doesn't offer any easy solutions. It deflates hype and outlines why the problem is tough.
    Both these should be available at the public library:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Mar 16, 2010 #3


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    For conceptual overviews, I second Smolins three-roads. Smolin has a series of books on the topic and they overlap quite a bit. I reall all of them but I like three roads the best.

    Smolins books more than anything else induces good questions. I perceived Rovelli's thinking as more distinct arguing towards a specific idea, rather than just stirring the pot. Which you prefer probably depends on your own ideas. I personally find smolins stirring to be morr constructuve than rovelli's more distinct, but IMO slighly mistuned reasoning.

    If you start reading rovelli's book as intro on LQG, the "relational QM" paper of Rovelli is a good complement. (http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/9609002) It expresses morere clearly rovellis view on QM. Which is certainly important to get the rest of what he attempts. Although I'm sure the equivalent information is in the book, the isolated papers sometimes makes a better job in illustrating isolated points.

    I suppose a new book from Smoling & Unger is supposed to come out within a year or so? I look forward to that. My expectations given Smolins past, is that the book will elaborate on the conceptual meaning of the evolving law, and how it may guide is in the search for a new scheme for physics that can coherently treat both particle physics and cosmology. This is another great thought provocative question that is very relevant to QG.

    Listen to this talk of Smolin.
    "On the reality of time and the evolution of laws"

    This arguments in that talk has some weak points, and unsatisfactory responses to the audience questions. Especially regarding the question of meta laws. I personally hope these points are exactly the ones to be further elaborated in the new book.

    Last edited: Mar 16, 2010
  5. Mar 21, 2010 #4
    Marcus had done it again....posted yet another fascinating reference (Rovelli's Quantum Gravity) to which I find myself magnetically attracted....

    THREE ROADS is a great read, can't go wrong there; Smolin's THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS, 2007, is also a very good background book.

    Also, I assume you know of Wikipedia, free online, which has some great stuff and some incomprehensible stuff depending on the author...
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