Thursday, 8 January 2009

Quantum - an Amazon reader review

Amazon customer P.G. Harris has submitted this review of Quantum to the book's page on

Quantum is the unfinished story of the development of quantum mechanics. Unfinished? Yes, because the question which lies at the centre of the book is not yet resolved.

The story starts in late Victorian times when classic physics seems close to completion, to being able to explain the world fully. There seem to be just a few loose ends to be tied up. However, it is those few loose ends inside the atom, explaining the nature of the electron, being able to account for light behaving both like a particle and a wave etc which lead to the unravelling (at the atomic level) of previous world views.

Through the lives of Planck, Bohr, Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Pauli, De Broglie and others we see how diferent strands of quantum theory were hotly contested and how it developed through analysis and synthesis.

One of the most exciting things about the book to me was the rigour and power of true scientific method. Quantum physics, despite being in some ways mind blowingly ethereal is subject to the most searching challenge and detailed research. We see two of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Einstein and Bohr sitting on opposite sides of the dispute, deploying their most powerful destructive intellectual weapons in order to test the veracity of each others ideas. If ever you doudt bthe superiority of genuine science over pseudo Science (are you listening Charles Windsor), read this book.

At the centre of the dispute is the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum mechanics, at the heart of which is the assertion that reality is not indepedent of measurement. (it would take too long to explain more, but Schrodingers famous cat is involved). Through the book we see Bohr besting Einstein, but one feels that the author is sympathetic towards Einstein and there is a sense of relief at the end of the book that the door remains open for the father of relativity.

Also fascinating is that roughly half of the book is about the major advances in the development of quantum theory in the first three decades of the 20th Century and thereafter debate switched to the interpretation, in a nutshell, is it reality or just a convenient model describing the effect of an underlying reality.

This is no dry science book however, one gets to know the people involved and the story has as its setting the major events of 20th Century history, the first world war, the rise of the nazis, the development of the atomic bomb, and the cold war.

Kumar is a clear and engaging writer, and my only two criticims would be firstly that in his efforts to be comprehensoible he maybe keeps too far away from the hard science at times. Secondly the odd summarising passage, showing briefly what the current state of play was would be helpful.

Overall, definitely recommended, it's a book for everyone, not just the scientifically minded.

Read various other Amazon reader reviews here.

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