Saturday, 3 July 2010

Reader's review from

Always good to find out what readers think about the book - especially when they say nice things! Here's a review on from David Wineberg in New York:

'There are a number of very striking themes and trends in Quantum that other reviewers have not brought out, being dazzled, no doubt, by the swift pacing, tantalizing prose and cliffhanger hooks that Kumar employs so magnificently in Quantum. 

First, as someone who has struggled to understand quantum mechanics when it is presented in textbooks as a whole system, I was delighted to find that physicists have the same problem. Even (if not especially) Albert Einstein. By taking us through the history of it, and enjoying the exhilaration of every incremental discovery, theory and step, I find I am really comfortable reading about it, and have no difficulty assimilating it. When you're along for the ride instead of the textbook, it makes a gigantic difference. Bravo, Kumar. 

Second, it became painfully obvious that physics is far more philosophy than science. I felt like the arguments came from my Logic 101 class. Socrates would have enjoyed crossing swords with Bohr. The arguments of the scientists were really basic, philosophical differences of opinion, not the least bit esoteric or idiosyncratic. It seems that medicine is not the only "science" where they tell you to get a second opinion. That was a revelation, and it made physics all that more human. 

Third, Quantum confirms a lifelong suspicion that this was and is a young man's game. It seems that every time things started to get stale, some precocious 26 year old student would come along with a new portion of a theory, and rock the establishment. And then live off that discovery for the rest of his life - winning the Nobel Prize (as almost every one of them eventually did), getting professorships - but never shaking the tree again. In music we would call them one hit wonders. Einstein was about the only one with two hits - brainstorms in 1905 and 1916 - but then, even he couldn't fathom the totality of quantum physics and never made another major contribution to its progress. By the age of 50 he was calling himself an "old fool". 

So in addition to all the praise heaped on Quantum for its superior exposition, I think it's a wonderful addition to the discussion of the human condition. Valuable on a number of levels. 

What a great book.'

Editor's choice, The New York Times Book Review

The editor of The  New York Times Book Review choice Quantum as one of his nine picks in the June 20 edition: 'Quantum mechanics made fascinating for readers who’d rather skip the mathematical complexities.' Full list here. 

Quantum reviewed in The New York Times Book Review

'In his lively new book, “Quantum,” the science writer Manjit Kumar cites a poll about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, taken among physicists at a conference in 1999. Of the 90 respondents, only four said they accepted the standard interpretation taught in every undergraduate physics course in the world. Thirty favored a modern interpretation, laid out in 1957 by the Princeton theoretician Hugh Everett III, while 50 ticked the box labeled “none of the above or undecided.” Almost a century after a few physicists first set out the basic theory, quantum mechanics is still a work in progress.' The rest of the review can be read here