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What's a good starting point for strings?

  1. Jul 24, 2004 #1

    Tom Mattson

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    Hey smart people! :smile:

    I want to learn string theory.

    First things first: My background is in medium energy theory (as in the kind of physics that is investigated at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility and at Brookhaven National Laboratory). As for my formal education, I've worked up through Sakurai's Advanced Quantum Mechanics and both volumes of Bjorken and Drell (my professors liked the classics). I have just ordered Weinberg's QFT set for a more modern treatment, and will probably go through that to fill in some of my QFT gaps before trying to learn string theory.

    So, as to string theory itself, what books or online resources would you recommend? I have gone through the "Annotated List" that Jeff posted, and most of those documents are now neatly filed away in 3-ring binders, waiting for me to sink my teeth into them. But I'd really like to begin with a couple of really good textbooks. I am inclined to get Zweibach's A First Course In String Theory for starters (the title sounds right :biggrin: ). I've also downloaded his problem sets from his webpage at MIT's OpenCourseWare site.

    Is this a good way to go about it? Are there any other books that you would recommend?
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  3. Jul 24, 2004 #2


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    The other textbooks commonly found in the US are Polchinski's String Theory, in two volumes, and Greene, Schwarz, and Witten Supersting Theory also in two volumes. GSW is older, but some people say it's a better text. What Zwiebach will do, assuming you do the excercises and problems, is prepare you for these books. But now that Z is available, and thinking over my own self study over the past few years, I would recommend everyone who proposes to study strings without a regular class to do at least part one of Zwiebach before tackling the heaviweights. There is some overlap in techniques between QFT and string theory, but not enough to let you make the transition automatically.

    I know from discussions on PF that there are other textbooks available, and perhaps some other poster can discuss them.
  4. Jul 24, 2004 #3
    I know that this Zwiebach book is new, I got it myself. How far have you gotten in it?
  5. Jul 26, 2004 #4
    Yeah, I don't as much as most people with the mathematical concepts that go behind it, but I read about it a ton.

    I started out with this link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/ -- Read everything on there and saw the 3-hour long program. Looked up more internet stuff, i.e. Edward Witten's online articles (http://www.sns.ias.edu/~witten/) on string theory, but then decided to hit the books.

    Then, I bought The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian R. Greene, of course.

    I then moved onto Beyond Einstein: The Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe by Michio Kaku, Jennifer Trainer Thompson (Contributor), then to The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything by John R. Gribbin.

    These have helped me a lot and I was thinking of buying Zwiebach's book, but I'm not quite sure yet.
  6. Jul 26, 2004 #5

    Tom Mattson

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    I know about the pop-science books, but I'm not really interested in them. What I'm after are the best introductions to a working knowledge of the subject. So far, it sounds like the way to go is:


    What sort of things do you calculate with string theory, anyway?
    Do string theorists ever calculate cross sections for scattering reactions, or is it all formal theory development?
  7. Jul 26, 2004 #6
    What about Superstring Theory: Volume 1, Introduction (Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics) by Michael B. Green, et al or An Introduction to String Theory and D-Brane Dynamics
    Richard J. Szabo ?
  8. Jul 26, 2004 #7


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    You might want to pick up Weinbergs text on general relativity, and get a handle with the tetrad formulation of GR. Or, you can go to a bookshop and read a few pages of A. Zee's cursory treatment of GR with field theory.

    You don't have to spend too much time on all that, its just nice to keep in mind, b/c most books in ST encompass it or review it also.

    Just make sure to do the homework problems in Polchinski, personally i'm on chapter 3, kinda doing it as a hobby since its not my field either.

    I have a good backround with conformal field theory, but im having difficulties cementing the relations with ST as the notation is completely different than what I am used too.

    Urs Schreiber has a weblog called the string coffee table (or something like that) and he listed a bunch of intro papers on arxiv a few months back, you might want to check those out.
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