John Gribbin
The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything

Although The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything did help to clarify several confusing issues that loomed in my head, the overall book is mildly disappointing. As a history of particle physics it gets the job done. The prose isn't unusually clear or interesting though. A "funner" version, although not as comprehensive or focused on strictly the history of particle physics, can be found in Doubt & Certainty or Blind Watchers of the Sky (the latter book approaching the topic from more of a cosmological viewpoint).

The title is 'catchy' but not accurately descriptive of the bulk of the text. The final chapter, less than one quarter of the book (The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything has only four chapters) finally deals with the title. The rest of the book sets the stage. A Brief History of Particle Physics would have been a more appropriate, albeit duller, title.

Gribbin occasionally contradicts himself (by saying things like the Universe is 13 billion years old on one page in Appendix II and 15 billion years old a few pages later) so this doesn't help his case when he critiques Paul Davies for using contradictory and only partially true facts in teaching students about the nature of the quantum world. Hopefully, the point still comes across to the reader that despite Gribbin's later use of the word 'particle' in a similar sense to the one he critiques Davies for using, 'particles' are the result of field fluctuations and not merely little balls running around in space unable to be created or destroyed in the classical sense. Fermions (including electrons) can be created and destroyed in matter-antimatter pairs. Bosons (including photons) can be created or destroyed. The common misperception that 'matter' is eternal needs to be tossed out the window.

Gribbin thinks that the current string theories are really on to something. He anticipates that experiments to be performed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN will finally provide us with a well-grounded theory of everything in the next decade. I certainly hope so too. It is an exciting time to be alive.

From the publisher:
Few areas of current scientific investigation are as intriguing, contentious, or bizarre as physicists' search for a Grand Unified Theory that would unite all the forces and particles of nature in one coherent mathematical package. Since Einstein's time, this "theory of everything" has become the Holy Grail of physics, and its pursuit has resulted in some of the most extraordinary conceptions in the history of science. In The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything, bestselling science popularizer John Gribbin explores the field of particle physics, the most exciting area of research in physics today and the key to uncovering the Grand Unified Theory.

Gribbin offers a clear and concise historical overview of subatomic particles, from the discovery of the electron in 1897 to some of the most exotic and dazzling unification schemes being proposed today. Following a series of major breakthroughs in the 1990s, physicists are now putting together a clearer picture of how subatomic particles work, using the radical theories of "superstrings"--the hypothesis that particles are loops of vibrating "strings"--and "supersymmetry." Gribbin guides the reader through these brilliant new models and the dazzling research leading up to them, as well as such other concepts as a twenty-six-dimensional universe and virtual particles. Written in clear and accessible prose, The Search for Superstrings describes the hundred-year saga of particle physics, culminating in current scientific research that stands on the cusp of radically altering our conception of the universe.

John Gribbin has a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Cambridge University. His many bestselling books include In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science (with Michael White), In the Beginning, and, most recently, Schrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality. His books have won awards in both Britain and the U.S.A.