Recently, I came across this book «Lost in math» that aroused my interest. Having read about half of it, I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Mrs. Hossenfelder's informal popular style of writing. Apart from that I have feeling that sometimes she jumps from one subject to another too freely and can't help but feel lost (I am not criticising, of course, merely describing my personal impression; judging by rather high Amazon's rating a lot of people have different opinion).

I would prefer some thing more strict, more structured, more academic, if you like (but not too academic for I am not a mathematician or theoretical physicist), about the same subject that is, as I would put it, elements of philosophical analysis of modern mathematics, its touch with reality and its relations with theoretical physics. Can you give me any suggestions please?

If you happen to have read classic book «Mathematics and the search for knowledge» by Morris Kline you, probably, understand what I mean. A nice book. It is somewhat outdated, though.

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    $\begingroup$ I have not read "Lost in math", but perhaps you may like Peter Wojt, Not even wrong: the failure of string theory and the search for unity of physical law. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2020 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ My view is that not enough time has passed for anyone to be able to write a dispassionate history of late 20th-century physics. Given that most of 19th-century science is well understood by now (and either verified or disproven), it's easier to write a clear history of that time period and explain (for you example) where math helped physics and where it might not have. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2020 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ I am also not sure whether you are looking for something on modern physics, with philosophical reflections on mathematics involved (Woit, Smolin), or on mathematics that mentions motivations from physics (Kline). I can think of more recent book-length works in the former category, like Cao-Scweber on renormalization or Rickles on quantum gravity. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Feb 21, 2020 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Danu
    Mar 9, 2020 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


If you are looking for a books exploring similar territory to Sabine Hossenfelders book, you can try looking at

  • Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics

  • David Lindleys, The End of Physics: The Myth of a Unified Theory

  • Peter Woit, It's not Even Wrong.

If you are looking for a more positive spin on the physics, try

  • Rickles, A Brief History of String Theory (although it is quite long)

  • Brian Greenes, The Elegant Universe

Both of these are quite dense - as far as popular science goes - but they do not use any mathematics; one that is quite mathematical, in that it actually has maths in it - but is still written for the lay mathematician; is quite short, and has plenty of illustrations in it, is Sossinskys Knot Theory. In many ways, it's my favourite; too bad, more people do not know how to write well and with dash and panache; it's short, but it packs a great deal of punch.

There is also another book which fits exactly, I think, what you are looking for; its sober and academic without actually being academic in the 'textbook' sense; moreover, it's not given to bursts of either undue optimism or pessimism (although it leans on the optimistic side) its called On Spacetime and is a book of essays edited by Shan Majid and features essays by Andrew Taylor on Dark energy and dark matter; Penrose (on causality), Connes (on non-Commutative geometry) and Shann Majid on Quantum groups - moreover it has Polkinghorne and Heller discussing larger issues of metaphysics (which may or may not be to your taste - but they are ineteresting essays nonetheless); I recommend it highly.

I found all these books in my local bookshop (depending where I was living at the time); if you have a good one nearby then I would suggest browsing the shelves to see what they have; there is a great deal more good science writing today, than there was when Kline was writing thirty years ago ...


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