The Universe in a Nutshell – Book Review

By Barath S. (L&T RBG)

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

― Stephen Hawking

The Universe in a Nutshell is billed as “the inspiring sequel to the book “A Brief History of Time” authored by the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.

(Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time has been a publishing phenomenon.  It spent more than four years on the bestseller lists and sold more than ten million copies in forty languages).

But this book is not really a sequel at all. It is rather, as Stephen Hawking might put it, a tangential to the earlier book.

This book has the ability to bring the reader for a short, but impactful tour from the smallest measurable particle (fundamental particles) to the largest detectable object (Supermassive black hole) in the universe.

In his accessible informal language and comfortable style, he guides us on his search to uncover the secrets of the universe — from supergravity to supersymmetry, from quantum theory to M-theory, from holography to duality. He takes us to the wild frontiers of science, where superstring theory and p-branes may hold the final clue to the puzzle. The puzzle being the mysteries of the universe including its origin & its existing state (why is it the way it is?)

M-theory unifies in a single mathematical structure all five consistent versions of string theory (as well as a particle description called supergravity). It looks like each of those theories in different physical regimes.

Nerdy content aside, this book has nicely described many complicated jargons into simple, digestible language with witty colourful illustrations.

The book is summarized at the end with a clever pun, where the whole universe is literally, like a surface of a nutshell, with reference to the P-Brane theory.

In addition to strings, string theories contain objects called “p-branes” that are essentially p-dimensional membranes on which strings can be confined. Strings can be closed loops that move around in the various dimensions, or they can break open and end on a p-brane. These open strings give rise to particles that only exist on the p-brane. It is possible that the world we live in is a 3-brane embedded in a higher dimensional space, and that the particles and forces we know are the product of open strings.

The Universe in a Nutshell can be a tough read, even for a physics lover. It is not because of Hawking’s ability as a writer. It is totally because the subject matter is so dense.

If you’re in the mood for some deep thinking that may or may not provide any real answers, give it a read.

If the thought of that already hurts your brain, steer clear.

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