© 2014

A Brief History of String Theory

From Dual Models to M-Theory

  • First monograph devoted to the history of superstring theory

  • Objective presentation of a controversial area of physics enabling readers to see through the divisive hype and hysteria forming the 'String Wars'

  • Interweaves conceptual issues with the wider historical development

  • Reveals string theory's historically close connections with other areas of physics

  • Self-contained approach brings string theory within the grasp of non-specialists


Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xix
  2. Dean Rickles
    Pages 1-18
  3. The (Very) Early Years: 1959–1973

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 19-19
    2. Dean Rickles
      Pages 21-50
    3. Dean Rickles
      Pages 51-70
    4. Dean Rickles
      Pages 71-95
  4. A Decade of Darkness: 1974–1984

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 111-111
    2. Dean Rickles
      Pages 113-132
    3. Dean Rickles
      Pages 133-146
    4. Dean Rickles
      Pages 147-166
  5. String Theory Becomes Super: 1985–1995

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 167-167
    2. Dean Rickles
      Pages 169-206
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 243-251

About this book


During its forty year lifespan, string theory has always had the power to divide, being called both a 'theory of everything' and a 'theory of nothing'. Critics have even questioned whether it qualifies as a scientific theory at all. This book adopts an objective stance, standing back from the question of the truth or falsity of string theory and instead focusing on how it came to be and how it came to occupy its present position in physics. An unexpectedly rich history is revealed, with deep connections to our most well-established physical theories. Fully self-contained and written in a lively fashion, the book will appeal to a wide variety of readers from novice to specialist.


Development of string theory History of physics Not even wrong Quantum gravity Sociology of science String theory

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.ScienceUniversity of Sydney Unit for History & Philosophy ofSydneyAustralia

About the authors

Dean Rickles is associate professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. He specialises in the history and philosophy of quantum gravity and has published extensively in this area. He has authored or edited several books including: The Structural Foundations of Quantum Gravity (coedited with S. French and J. Saatsi: Oxford University Press, 2006); Symmetry, Structure, and Spacetime (Elsevier, 2007); The Ashgate Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Physics (Ashgate, 2008); and The Role of Gravitation in Physics: Report from the 1957 Chapel Hill Conference (Co-edited with Cecile DeWitt: Max Planck Research Library for the History and Development of Knowledge, 2011).

Bibliographic information


“Certainly any historian wishing to deal with this subject matter in the future will take this pioneering work as a starting point. Indeed, the book offers a multitude of such starting points, offering a question worthy of a dissertation on almost every page. … an indispensable compendium for anybody interested in tackling this difficult and important subject.” (Alexander Blum, ISIS, Vol. 106 (4), December, 2015)

“This is a good textbook tracing the origin of string theory in physical scientific studies. … This book will be of great value to physicists at all levels of training, including graduate students and postdocs. It is a milestone in historical research.” (Joseph J. Grenier,, July, 2015)

“This is a worthwhile and enjoyable book, full of interesting details about the development of one of the main research areas of theoretical physics. It appears to be most useful to scientists educated in related fields, and I would even say that it should be a mandatory read for young colleagues entering research in string theory.” (Wolfgang Lerche, CERN Courier, September, 2014)

“Amazing book! First book that covers the history of the String Theory. It is one of the best book published this year. I highly recommend it to you!” (Philosophy, Religion and Science Book Reviews,, May, 2014)

“While I’ve spent a lot of time in the past reading about much of this history, I learned a lot from the book, about string theory as well as other topics in particle physics that interacted with it. I’m strongly of the opinion that if you want to really understand a subject, you need to understand its history, so anyone who wants to really master string theory would do well to spend some time with this book.”(Not Even Wrong,, March, 2014)

"Dean Rickles' book is the first serious attempt by a historian of science to relate the remarkable story of the origins and rise of string theory. I think he has done an impressive job especially in view of the obstacles that needed to be overcome: string theory's convoluted history, the highly mathematical nature of the subject, and the many common misconceptions that exist. There will surely be much more historical study of this subject in the future, so it is very fortunate that this book will be a reliable source." (John Schwarz, California Institute of Technology)