8.821 | Fall 2008 | Graduate

String Theory


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 session / week, 1.5 hours / session


It turns out that string theory is useful. This will be a one-semester class about gauge/gravity duality (often called AdS/CFT) and its applications.


Relativistic Quantum Field Theory II (8.324)


GR, QFT or sufficient willingness to temporarily suspend disbelief. Previous exposure to string theory recommended but not essential.


There will be three kinds of coursework this semester:

  • Problem sets
  • Scribe notes: each lecture, one person will volunteer to be the scribe for that lecture, and is responsible for taking notes and texing them up and sending them to me. After (hopefully minor) revisions, I will post them for the rest of the students to see. To help in writing up the lectures notes, I will give the scribe a copy of my written notes, and maybe an audio recording of the lecture.
  • End-of-term project. The first option is to give a brief talk summarizing a result of interest to the class. I’ll provide a list of appropriate subjects. The second option is to write a brief paper doing the same.


Unfortunately, there isn’t a textbook yet which follows the path in store for us. Below are some string theory references as well as a list of books and papers which we may find useful. Specific suggested readings lecture-by-lecture are provided in the readings section. Additional references are provided in the related resources section.

String Theory References for the Class

TASI Lectures on AdS/CFT

Large N Field Theories, String Theory and Gravity

Supersymmetric Gauge Theories and the AdS/CFT Correspondence

TASI Lectures on Introduction to the AdS/CFT Correspondence

TASI Lectures on the Holographic Principle

Black Holes in String Theory

Viscosity, Black Holes and Quantum Field Theory

Introductory Lectures on Black Hole Thermodynamics (PS)

Susskind, Leonard, and James Lindesay. An Introduction to Black Holes, Information, and the String Theory Revolution: The Holographic Universe. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2004. ISBN: 9789812560834.

Kiritsis, Elias. String Theory in a Nutshell. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780691122304.

Becker, Katrin, Melanie Becker, and John H. Schwarz. String Theory and M-Theory: A Modern Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780521860697.

General String Theory References

Polchinski, Joseph Gerard. String Theory. Vol. 1, An Introduction to the Bosonic String. Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780521672276.

———. String Theory. Vol. 2, Superstring Theory and Beyond. Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780521672283.

Green, M., John H. Schwarz, and E. Witten. Superstring Theory. Vol. 1, Introduction. Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN: 9780521357524.

———. Superstring Theory. Vol. 2, Loop Amplitutes, Anomalies and Phenomenology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN: 9780521357531.

Polyakov, A. M. Gauge Fields and Strings. Contemporary Concepts in Physics. Vol. 3. New York, NY: CRC Publishers, 1987. ISBN: 9783718603930.

Lust, D., and S. Theisen. Lectures on String Theory. Lecture notes in physics, 346. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag, 1989. ISBN: 9780387518824.

M. Peskin’s TASI lectures: Introduction to String Theory and Superstring Theory II (PDF - 5.5 MB)

P. Ginsparg’s Applied Conformal Field Theory lectures (PDF)

A. Uranga’s Lecture Notes for a Graduate Course in String Theory at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid

Zwiebach, Barton. A First Course in String Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780521880329.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2008
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets with Solutions
Lecture Notes