For most people, quantum theory is a byword for mysterious, impenetrable science. And yet for many years it was equally baffling for scientists themselves. In this magisterial book, Manjit Kumar gives a dramatic and superbly-written history of this fundamental scientific revolution, and the divisive debate at its core.
Quantum theory looks at the very building blocks of our world, the particles and processes without which it could not exist. Yet for 60 years most physicists believed that quantum theory denied the very existence of reality itself.
In this tour de force of science history, Manjit Kumar shows how the golden age of physics ignited the greatest intellectual debate of the twentieth century.
Quantum theory is weird. In 1905 Albert Einstein suggested that light was a particle, not a wave, defying a century of experiments. Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and Erwin Schrödinger’s famous dead-and-alive cat are similarly strange. As Niels Bohr said, if you weren’t shocked by quantum theory, you didn’t really understand it.
While Quantum sets the science in the context of the great upheavals of the modern age, Kumar’s centrepiece is the conflict between Einstein and Bohr over the nature of reality and the soul of science. ‘Bohr brainwashed a whole generation of physicists into believing that the problem had been solved’, lamented the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann. But in Quantum, Kumar brings Einstein back to the centre of the quantum debate.
Quantum is the essential read for anyone fascinated by this complex and thrilling story and by the band of brilliant men at its heart.
Manjit Kumar has degrees in physics and philosophy. He was the founding editor of Prometheus, an interdisciplinary journal that covered the arts and sciences, and is the co-author of Science and the Retreat from Reason, which introduced key areas of modern science while defending notions of social progress and scientific advance.
Published in 1995, it was critically acclaimed as a ‘corrective to the hype’, ‘thought-provoking’, and ‘undoubtedly one of the best introductions one can find to the crisis of confidence within science itself’.
He has written and reviewed for various publications including The Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Irish Times. He lives in north London with his wife and two sons.