Guest post: a review of String Theory texts
[Today we have a guest post from my flatmate, Jo Benjamin. Jo is an MSc. student at Durham’s Centre for Particle Theory. His research project is on black holes in string theory. His post is about useful text for first year students who’d rather avoid slogging through worldsheet string theory.]
The first time I met Flip, the conversation went something along the lines of “Hello”, “Hello”, “I’m Jo”, “I’m Flip”, “Flip?” “Yes, Flip”, etc…, “What course are you doing?”, “A taught particle physics masters”, “That’s stringy, isn’t it?” “It has a string theory module, yes”. This was then followed by some fairly dismissive comments about string theory being a load of rubbish. 
In the light of this, I thought I’d cover a topic he probably never will. I am currently writing my dissertation on black hole entropy in string theory and preparing for this has involved reading a lot of string theory books. Hence, I thought I’d dispense my accumulated knowledge on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the books I found from the point of view of someone not wanting to study worldsheet string theory. Indeed, in the process it’s made me ask the question “Why the hell would anyone study worldsheet string theory?!”. Anyway…here goes…
Polchinski (String Theory vol. 1&2)
I had this down as an ‘orrible worldsheet book and almost ignored it. In fact, vol. 1 I did ignore. Generally, a worldsheet book is what it is. However, it just so happens to be a very good one – perfect for looking up all the odd worldsheet details you forgot and need to check on. Written in a clear style. Also, the appendices are fantastic for someone who’s not too happy with SUSY and SUGRA.
Becker, Becker and Schwarz (String Theory and M-Theory)
I really like the style in which this is written. Gives an idea of what the Green-Schwarz formalism is all about which is unusual. Quite comprehensive and has a section on black holes and one introducing AdS/CFT – nice to see some uses of it all in there. Good to dip in and out of for odd topics or to read cover to cover – pretty well all really well explained. A few gaps which isn’t surprising given the scope of the book.
Zwiebach (A First Course in String Theory)
A very basic book. I haven’t used it much but what I have used I’ve liked. Does a lot of things in a different way to other books so is good to see a different approach. The flip side of this is that it also often uses different notation. Still, nice to see things done differently.
Green, Schwarz and Witten (Superstring Theory vol. 1&2)
Confession time…I was put off by the old typewriter text. Oops. All rather worldsheety anyway. Ask someone who’s interested.
Kaku (Introduction to Superstrings and M-Theory)
Much of this is on worldsheet string theory which I haven’t really looked at much. The M-theory and brane stuff at the end is explained well and a good place to learn it from. I also like the fact that references are given at the end of each chapter so it’s easy to find a different source of something when you’re struggling to understand it. Excellent appendices called “a brief introduction to [insert assumed knowledge here]”. Does exactly what it says on the tin.
As the name suggests, this is very comprehensive on braney stuff which was very good. I tended to use this most and look up things in Becker, Becker and Schwarz when I got stuck on something. Not the best of explanations of things but very comprehensive so very useful.
That’s all I used – there are a few others out there I’ve not touched. Maybe they’d also have been good but these ones (especially Becker, Becker and Schwarz, Johnson and Kaku) have done me pretty well, I’d say.
Notes from the editor
 I don’t actually remember this happening and have my deep suspicious about whether it ever did.
2. There are a few other books on the market that Jo didn’t use. Perhaps the most notable one is the text by Kiritsis, String Theory in a Nutshell (see also the arXiv version). For a longer list, though without commentary, one can check out the String Wiki.
3. Special thanks to Jo for his contribution. Following this year Jo will be teaching physics at a secondary school. His future students would do well to ask him questions about D-branes.
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