Where does Brian Greene stand in the pantheon of physicists?
With his 1999 best seller The Elegant Universe, a NOVA special, and the recent release of a second book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, Columbia professor Brian Greene has become the closest thing that physics has to a pop star. A Harvard grad and former Rhodes scholar, lured in 1996 from a professorship at Cornell to a tenured position at Columbia, he has emerged as the chief ambassador of string theory, bringing cutting-edge work to the public in a series of TV appearances and lectures around the globe. His celebrity can be attributed to a widespread popular appetite for avant-garde science dressed in neat metaphorical packages: The universe is elegant; the cosmos is like a string symphony. Yet there is plenty to be suspicious of in Greene’s unself-conscious romanticism—his unnuanced use of terms like elegance and beauty—and his teleological approach to the history of physics. Where, exactly, does he stand in the pantheon of physicists?