The Elegant Universe
Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (1999)
by Brian Greene (1963-)
I was inspired to read this after reading The First Three Minutes. Had the subject been current when I was in school, I would have tried to participate in it.
The book itself was given to me by Carl, who thought I would like it. Greene’s presentation is for nontechnical spectators, companion to a Nova series that I didn’t see.
The subject is superficially mere conjecture, with no grounding in experiment. However, this is not really a weakness. General Relativity was in a similar position while Einstein developed it. The main difference is that Einstein worked with little help (though of course he drew on the work of others). Quantum geometry (to use the name I like best of those Greene uses) is a collaboration of many, and has been in development for at least thirty years.
The attraction of the theory (at least as Greene presents the theory) is primarily aesthetic. A theory is being developed that might produce physics from mathematical axioms. The axioms are primarily expressions of geometry and the core of quantum theory. It is thrilling to think that the theory might produce predictions (postdictions) of the so-called fundamental facts of the current standard model and gravitation theories.
I recently heard Greene interviewed by Terry Gross, and I expect to also read his book The Fabric of the Cosmos.