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Smolin and Woit #1 and #2 bestsellers

  1. Sep 2, 2006 #1

    marcus

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    as of !:30 PM pacific today the two new books

    The Trouble with Physics and Not Even Wrong

    were #1 and #2 on the Amazon general physics bestseller list
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14560/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/102-4540543-7840144

    followed by Brian Greene Elegant Universe as #3.

    There seems to be a run on general audience books about fundamental physics. Rising tide lifts all boats. I personally have never seen it like this. Leonard Susskind used to be wandering around between #50 and #95-----but now he is right up there too.

    BTW check out this nice portrait of Johannes Kepler.
    http://kepler.nasa.gov/johannes/

    I have a feeling that science is getting popular. More windows more air more interest. Or might be GOING to get more popular. Can't be sure, just a feeling.

    Penrose, Lisa Randall, and Susskind are #6, 18, 21 respectively.

    this list is volatile and changes every hour, but the makeup of the list is....well I find it interesting.

    The general audience fundamental physics books are interspersed with college textbooks, because right now the College Freshman are buying their books for the semester.
     
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  3. Sep 2, 2006 #2

    marcus

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    Someone just mentioned Parallel Worlds by Kaku, so I checked the list and IT has risen in popularity as well, along with the others!
    Kaku's book is now up to #45 on Amazon general physics bestseller.

    It is not clear how durable these standings are, since the list changes every hour.
     
  4. Sep 2, 2006 #3

    CarlB

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    I'm enjoying Woit's and Smolin's books. When I'm finished reading them, I may attempt to learn some string theory. By the way, what is the purpose of this thread? Ask and I'll delete this if it's off topic.

    Carl
     
  5. Sep 2, 2006 #4

    marcus

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    don't delete your comment, please!
    what interests me in this thread, and what i hope other people can shed some light on, is the changing perceptions of fundamental physics----outside the rather small communities of specialists that do the research.

    If possible, I don't want this thread to get into detailed discussion of the merits of this theory or that theory.

    My first motivation here was my surprise that these wide-audience books went to the top of the chart.

    to me it says something about the interest of an intelligent educated reading public that are INTERESTED IN SCIENCE POLICY and in the general results of research (at the level of NYTimes science writing) but who don't necessarily want to read the equations.
    these books are not necessarily ALL dumbed down popularizations AFAICS.

    the market is showing an appetite for something else besides old favorites like Stephen Hawking Brian Greene and Michio Kaku. Although those books are also in there doing fine.

    I see that Lisa Randall book is doing very well. Also Roger Penrose.

    I would like anyone who has some historical perspective to comment. In the past I havent paid much attention to the wide audience science book market, or to the public view of science, so I may be being overimpressed by signs of dynamism.

    I see the present situation as remarkable and hopeful. My picture is that a mature educated sector of the reading public has NOT been very interested in fundamental physics for several decades and has kind of gone to sleep on us. And now that mature educated sector is WAKING UP, becoming critical and alert, and showing renewed interest in fundamental questions (essentially what is space what is time what is matter and why does it interact with space the way it does...a bunch more basic ones like that).

    I could be being too optimistic. Admittedly there are serious bad aspects of the situation---big cuts to experimental particle physics for instance---in part due to war, debt, recession fears etc. things outside our scope. but I welcome signs of what I take to be increased critical alertness.

    if anyone is feeling less hopeful and wants to throw a bucket of cold water on these ideas that is fine too!
    anyway, the topics here are these books and this interface with the public and what you think is going on, if anything :-)
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2006
  6. Sep 3, 2006 #5
    This bookselling phenomenon at Amazon.com is particularly interesting for a nonfiction book which hasn't yet made it to the stores' bookshelves. I am not sure how the Amazon ranking works, and to what extent this ranking correlates with those of other bookstores (I would guess there would be a fairly good correlation), but what I am certain of is that a large part of the publicity for these books is coming from Peter Woit's and Lubos Motl's blogs.

    All science nonfiction considered however, the books do not make it to the top 10 (barely any physics makes it anyway). But this is clearly too early to say they won't ever. Similarly for other bestselling physics books...

    I think that the timing also is very important. The 2 books came out almost one after the other, and complement each other in many ways (I still haven't read them, so this is me speculating from what I have read on blogs, reviews and newspaper articles). Susskind's book is also getting some publicity and going up in the rankings because the books address some of the arguments, anthropic or others, put forward by Lenny in his book. Penrose's and Randall's are climbing the ladder since many people are checking up (and maybe purchasing) on these books, since they are in the top 20! Randall has also set up a web page for her book, so this, I guess, is helping.

    However, I still don't think this selling phenomenon says anything, at the moment at least, serious about how attitudes are changing towards string theory, from a majority point of view. The public interest in how physics works is big nowadays, with a lot of physics books coming from rather serious contenders like Greene, Krauss, Randall, Susskind, Smolin. These are people who also figure a lot in the news. So, the potential of creating, or stimulating, interest is there, and it is more interesting given the fact that these books are trying to describe the frontiers of fundamental physics research, as it is done in between the walls of major physics departments in the world. However, not many people have actually written anything major about the "wrong steps" in physics, and Lee and Peter are getting a lot of publicity because the media are making sensations about very qualified scientists taking upon themselves to write as honestly as possible what they perceive as and understand to be big flaws in how research in fundamental physics, mainly in the unification programme, has been carried out in the past 3-4 decades. As far a I know, only Penrose and Susskind have depicted things differently from Greene so far.

    It is clear that anybody right now coming up with a book desconstructing this so-called "crisis" would win quite a readership! What we see on blogs is merely a public depiction of what really happens (with big moderation of course) in the real world of physics discussions, I would say. So, I'm not surprised at all by how the books are faring.

    So?
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2006
  7. Sep 6, 2006 #6

    marcus

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    nitin, thanks for such thoughtful comment
    congratulations on graduation from Melbourne, I am looking forward to your choice of grad school and eager to learn how it goes.

    your comment makes me think that the public is ready for someone with Greene-level talent for image and analogy to present ALAIN CONNES work as well, or was this already done? Urs called it "spectral geometry" today, instead of NCG. It is another part of the non-string QG---the "new understanding of space time and matter"---picture.

    you also intensify my own perception that by SCRAPING OFF some UNCTIOUS LAYERS OF HYPE and glib speculation and COMING CLEAN a book can stimulate interest in science. I am yelling because I find the prospect quite exciting.

    Francesca just said something in some thread here. She said Oriti was moving from Cambridge to Utrecht and that Utrecht was turning out to be a good place for non-string QG. I don't know if she is right. Not that one place can or should cover all bases, I wonder if they have anyone there doing spectral geometry.

    FH who was at Marseille for Masters, and used to post here often, has gone to Nottingham for PhD----that is where John Barrett is---his new paper autonomously duplicates some result of Alain Connes.

    ==============
    to update the book sales news:

    Smolin TwP has been number one on amazon general physics bestsellers list for a week now.
    I first noticed it #1 as of Wednesday 30 August 5:40 PM pacific, and it has been there steadily ever since as far as I can tell

    I just checked at Wednesday 6 September 11:20 AM pacific and the lineup was

    #1 The Trouble with Physics (Smolin)

    #2 Elegant Universe (Greene)

    #7 Not Even Wrong (Woit)

    #9 Road to Reality (Penrose)

    #18 Brief History of Time (Hawking)

    #33 Cosmic Landscape (Susskind)

    #36 Warped Passages (Randall)

    #45 Parallel Worlds (Kaku)
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2006
  8. Sep 6, 2006 #7

    marcus

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    I get a strange impression when I see these two books side by side at top of bestseller list. It is almost as if their titles were designed to MATCH.

    1. The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next
    by Lee Smolin
    Price: $26.00 $17.16
    You Save: $8.84 (34%)

    2. The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
    by Brian Greene
    Price: $15.95 $10.37
    You Save: $5.58 (35%)
    118 used & new from $7.19

    To match, to echo, to illuminate each other by contrast. something.
    Same overall rhythm, prosody, rhetorical progression.

    It was just two weeks ago on the radio---NPR's Talk of the Nation: Science Friday---that Smolin and Greene were being co-interviewed by Ira Flatow.
     
  9. Sep 8, 2006 #8

    marcus

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    Back about a week ago I noticed this
    Today Friday 8 September I saw much the same lineup
    This is as of 1:20 PM pacific
    #1 TwP
    #2 NEW
    #7 Elegant Universe (Greene)
    #8 Road to Reality (Penrose)
    #13 Brief History of Time (Hawking)
    #38 Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions (Randall)
    #40 The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design (Susskind)
    #88 Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos (Kaku)

    Peter Woit's book does not stay steady at #2, but as it bounces around it keeps on coming back to that spot.
    Smolin's book has been steady #1 since 30 August (at least whenever I looked).
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2006
  10. Sep 9, 2006 #9

    CarlB

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    I've finished Smolin and Woit's latest. Of the two, Smolin's is for the more general audience but I found it the most revolutionary. I kept looking for the part where he was going to suggest lining up everyone with tenure and shooting them.

    Carl
     
  11. Sep 9, 2006 #10

    marcus

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    my copy was ordered a while back but hasn't arrived yet, so I haven't read it.

    what you say surprises me because in earlier pieces by Smolin there was no animosity against senior faculty

    it was more: Let's help young researchers and junior faculty be more independent and go after problems that interest THEM, rather than having to follow in some established old guy's program.

    the proposal was to give research support to the self-motivated INDIVIDUAL with proven ability---based on track record.

    So you don't force or legislate diversity of approach by fiat, you allow it to happen and support it (if yr qualified young people have what it takes to explore out on their own).

    The pattern he is criticising I understood to be funding research BY PROGRAM so if string is the only program funded the researcher has to join the string team to get a contract.
    =============

    my impression was that Smolin's proposal was actually in line with timehonored academic practice of a generation or two back. the pattern we have now where one program in fundamental research has a monopoly is out of line.
    ================

    Carl you say you KEPT LOOKING for some atrocity to be urged against senior faculty, and I guess that means you didnt find it!
    I havent read the book but my impression (from the piece in Physics Today and companion one in NYAS Update) is that's not what it's about. Or?
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2006
  12. Sep 9, 2006 #11

    CarlB

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    No, I was exaggerating. But there is no question that the book blames the trouble with physics on senior researchers. He's got sections titled "How do you fight sociology" and "How science really works". Here let me quote a paragraph to give you the idea:

    It's a shame and sort of amazing that your copy hasn't arrived yet. Mine came about 48 hours after I ordered it.

    By the way, the book is friendly towards NCG, theories that violate special relativity, theories that redo QM, and that the standard concept of time is faulty. Since what I'm doing is essentially NCG applied to preons that violate SR and modify QM in the context of a more complicated time than usual, I've been very enthused about the book. I really didn't think anyone was sufficiently revolutionary to consider what I was doing as within the pale. He's given me the moral strength to tell it like I see it instead of telling it like everybody wants to hear it, and to work on physics as I see it has to be done instead of modifying my work so as to make it more palatable to other people, whose opinions, after all, don't determine what is true.

    Carl
     
  13. Sep 10, 2006 #12

    arivero

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    By the way, there is, or there was, a way to navigate graphically abour these relationships, by using Touchgraph browser for Amazon,
    http://www.touchgraph.com/TGAmazonBrowser.html

    If it still works, you can get nice screenshoots to attach to the thread.

     
  14. Sep 13, 2006 #13

    marcus

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    Arivero, thanks for the tip about getting screenshots. I am still keeping track----it has been a full two weeks now that whenever i check it out TwP is #1

    amazon general physics bestsellers
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14560/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/103-6432418-0205431

    Wednesday 13 September 6:15 PM pacific

    #1 The Trouble with Physics (Smolin)
    #2 Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory And the Search for Unity in Physical Law (Woit)
    #3 The Elegant Universe (Greene)
    #6 A Brief History of Time (Hawking)
    #9 The Road to Reality (Penrose)
    #18 Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions (Randall)
    #89 The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design (Susskind)
    #93 Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension (Kaku)

    Thursday 14 September 11:05 AM pacific

    #1 The Trouble with Physics (Smolin)
    #2 Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory And the Search for Unity in Physical Law (Woit)
    #3 The Elegant Universe (Greene)
    #9 A Briefer History of Time (Hawking)
    #16 The Road to Reality (Penrose)
    #33 Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions (Randall)
    #38 Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension (Kaku)
    #39 The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design (Susskind)
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2006
  15. Sep 15, 2006 #14

    marcus

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    Yesterday 14 September the web magazine SLATE
    had a review of The Trouble with Physics
    by author Gregg Easterbrook
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregg_Easterbrook

    Easterbrook's review is here:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2149598/


    ===EDIT===
    Peter Woit now has something about Easterbrook's review and also mentions two others:

    this in the Economist (subscribers only, at least so far)
    http://www.economist.com/books/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_SJDVNNV

    and something by Tom Siegfried (a science journalist and author of string-pop books) to appear in this weekend's NYT Book Review section.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2006
  16. Sep 15, 2006 #15

    marcus

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    This is a real testimonial to Smolin's book. It is something I think he would be very glad to hear.

    this is what stands out in my mind about it too:

    ** friendly towards NCG, theories that violate special relativity, theories that redo QM, and that the standard concept of time is faulty. **

    and he gives SOLID REASONS for being interested in DSR, foundations of QM----and the various Background Independent QG. In several cases he explains step by step what led him to get interested in a particular line of research. And describes his interaction with others in the same field---dramatic exchange of ideas.

    the book has a definite "what comes next" focus and it is not limited to just one brand of QG (like LQG). that's what I like.
     
  17. Sep 15, 2006 #16

    CarlB

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    Marcus, did you finish reading it yet? The amazing thing is that he keeps it up all the way to the last page.
     
  18. Sep 18, 2006 #17

    marcus

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    Carl,
    yeah it is a remarkable book. manages to be down-to-earth matter-of-fact about front-edge research, conveying sophisticated ideas without equations----partly through the restless wandering of the author's own career which has crossed boundaries and gone into different fields, so it communicates concepts partly by direct experience. it is very good.

    you probably like the earthiness and frankness of the book----might find that personally compatible
    (I find it congenial myself, and refreshing)

    Continuing to gauge impact, here are the latest sales ranks. For comparison I quote those of last week:

    sampling from Amazon general physics bestseller list with overall sales rank in parens----as of 9:30AM Monday 18 September

    1. The Trouble with Physics (#183)
    2. Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory And the Search for Unity in Physical Law (#736)
    3. The Elegant Universe (#867)
    4. Physics for Dummies (#870)
    5. A Brief History of Time (#1837)
    8. God's Universe (#2090)
    10. The Road to Reality (#2746)
    22. Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions (#6170)
    32. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension (#9126)
    33. The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design (#9273)

    the overall amazon-wide sales rank gives some additional information about by how much, say, #1 and #2 might differ in terms of actual sales. If an approximately uniform random distribution is assumed then one might guess, for instance, that TwP was selling roughly an order of magnitude more copies per day than "God's Universe" by Owen Gingerich. Though impossible to translate overall sales rank into sales per day, it gives a better idea, I think, than comparison merely within the general physics category.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2006
  19. Sep 19, 2006 #18

    marcus

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    as a help in following gen phys sales and hopefully understanding something of the gen phys bookmarket, here are some
    links giving the current top seven books' overall amazon sales rank

    Smolin---Trouble with Physics:
    http://www.amazon.com/Trouble-Physi...pd_ts_b_1/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books

    Woit---Not Even Wrong:
    http://www.amazon.com/Not-Even-Wron...pd_ts_b_2/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books

    Physics for Dummies:
    http://www.amazon.com/Physics-Dummi...pd_ts_b_3/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books

    Greene---Elegant Universe:
    http://www.amazon.com/Elegant-Unive...pd_ts_b_3/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books

    Owen Gingerich---God's Universe:
    http://www.amazon.com/God-s-Univers...pd_ts_b_3/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books

    Hawking---Brief History of Time:
    http://www.amazon.com/Brief-History...pd_ts_b_5/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books

    Hawking---Briefer History of Time:
    http://www.amazon.com/Briefer-Histo...pd_ts_b_7/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books

    To find out the sales rank of any of these, you click on the link and scroll down to Product Details

    gen phys bestseller lineup as of 19 September 10:05 PM pacific time:
    1. TwP #234
    2. NEW #858
    3. Physics for Dummies #1746
    4. Elegant U #2117
    5. God's U #2359
    6. Brief Hist # 2396
    7. Briefer #2399
    ...


    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14560/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/102-4540543-7840144
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2006
  20. Sep 30, 2006 #19

    marcus

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    gen phys bestseller lineup as of 30 September 8:15 AM pacific time:
    1. TwP #161
    2. NEW #695
    3. Elegant U #1307
    4. Physics for Dummies #...
    ...

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14560/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/102-4540543-7840144

    the list has stabilized some since the textbook/study-aid binge at start of school
    the top three have been the same whenever I looked in the past few days, so the top of the list seems stable for the moment.
    ==============

    someone pointed out that this doesnt show the Smolin and Woit books in comparison with other new release hardcover books. most of the "competition" is paperback that has been on the market for several years.

    I will try to find some recent hardcover wide-audience science books to compare sales.


    even though not physics, there is E.O. Wilson "The Creation: an Appeal to Save Life on Earth" (hardcover, out this month) current salesrank #203
    so that is very similar performance to Smolin's book

    more in physics, there is Hawking "A Briefer History of Time" (hardcover, out one year) current salesrank #3666

    there is also Leonard Susskind "Cosmic Landscape...Intelligent Design" (hardcover, out 9 months) current salesrank #11,682

    The E.O.Wilson might be interesting to track to compare trajectory with TwP, so here is the link
    http://www.amazon.com/Creation-Appe...=pd_bbs_1/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8&s=books
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2006
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