The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin

The cover of the hardcover edition of The Trouble with Physics, by Lee Smolin. Houghton Mifflin

The Bottom Line

This book is an accessible discussion of major topics in theoretical physics and string theory, but presents a view which is certainly not the consensus among the theoretical physics community. I'd suggest reading another book on string theory and then reading Smolin's account. No one can claim to understand string theory without having read and addressed the criticisms presented by Smolin.


  • Provides a comprehensive look at the history and development of string theory.
  • Critically analyzes the failure of string theory to live up to some of the most dramatic claims.
  • Attacks the current funding processes and institutional biases in scientific research and academia.
  • Presents other areas of research that are being pursued.
  • The book is heavily referenced, allowing for further independent research.


  • Many claims made in the book are controversial.
  • String theorists claim a misrepresentation of their research.
  • Many of the alternative areas of research are still in very early stages.


  • 2006, 392 pages, 20 chapters + Notes (12 pages), Acknowledgements, Index
  • Review is of the paperback edition. There is also a hardback edition available.
  • Other books by Lee Smolin include The Life of the Cosmos and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity.
  • Lee Smolin is a co-inventor of loop quantum gravity.
  • Lee Smolin is a founding researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

    Guide Review - The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin

    Once upon a time, physicists were taking every opportunity to promote string theory as a "theory of everything." In this book, Smolin dramatically argues that string theory has failed at this goal. String theory is a useful theory but certainly not one which describes reality at a fundamental level, and he proposes searching elsewhere for a more fundamental theory.

    At the center of his argument is the idea that string theory does not determine physical parameters, but allows for a vast "string theory landscape" (a phrase by string theory founder Leonard Susskind) which requires measurement of various parameters to match our universe. A fundamental theory, Smolin argues, would tell us why the universe has the parameters it does, rather than making us measure them.

    Even more significant than his specific criticisms of string theory as science is his criticism of scientific research as a whole. He accuses academia of containing inherent prejudices which inhibit the introduction of new talent - especially minorities and women - into the field, and which punish new ideas and promote the status quo. String theory, as a dominant theory which has produced little, is used to present this case, but the case itself is more dramatic. In part due to string theory, Smolin feels as if the last generation of theoretical physicists - his generation - has left no lasting legacy, instead having squandered their talents on exploring string theory instead of looking into new areas.

    These new areas include topics such as loop quantum gravity, deformed special relativity, modified gravity (MOG), variable speed of light (VSL), and other less-researched areas.

    As Smolin sees it, the emphasis on string theory has unfairly forced these theories into the background ... and he makes a strong case.

    Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.