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Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality [Hardcover]

Manjit Kumar
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Oct 2008
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 Schrodinger'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.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd; First Edition edition (2 Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310293
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310292
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 14.6 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 221,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'An elegantly written and accessible guide to quantum physics, in which Kumar structures the narrative history around the clash between Einstein and Bohr, and the anxiety that quantum theory "disproved the existence of reality".' -- Scotland on Sunday

'An elegantly written and accessible guide to quantum physics, in which Kumar structures the narrative history around the clash between Einstein and Bohr, and the anxiety that quantum theory "disproved the existence of reality".' Scotland on Sunday -- Scotland on Sunday

'An exhaustive and brilliant account of decades of emotionally charged discovery and argument, friendship and rivalry spanning two world wars.' Steven Poole, Guardian -- Guardian, 15th November 2008

'I found Quantum a fascinating, riveting read. I have not read individual biographies of the scientists concerned beyond what can be found in customary introductory sections of popular science books, and I normally dislike the biographical approach to popular science, but in this case the interweaving of the stories of the scientists and of the science worked brilliantly. Quantum shows not only the body of science, but also its human face. I had a real feeling of observing one of the greatest revolutions of human understanding of the world as it happened; from the personalities of people involved to the administrative details of their employment to the grand sweeps of history that engulfed them. Particularly compelling was how essential for the development of ideas was the communication, co-operation and competition between the scientists: how ideas were bounced between them, reused and refashioned, and how astonishingly creative this cohort of incredibly young men became in the process. ... Quantum is a fascinating, powerful and brilliantly written book that shows one of the most important theories of modern science in the making and discusses its implications for our ideas about the fundamental nature of the world and human knowledge, while presenting intimate and insightful portraits of people who made the science. Highly recommended.' -- thebookbag.co.uk

'I found Quantum a fascinating, riveting read. I have not read individual biographies of the scientists concerned beyond what can be found in customary introductory sections of popular science books, and I normally dislike the biographical approach to popular science, but in this case the interweaving of the stories of the scientists and of the science worked brilliantly. Quantum shows not only the body of science, but also its human face. I had a real feeling of observing one of the greatest revolutions of human understanding of the world as it happened; from the personalities of people involved to the administrative details of their employment to the grand sweeps of history that engulfed them. Particularly compelling was how essential for the development of ideas was the communication, co-operation and competition between the scientists: how ideas were bounced between them, reused and refashioned, and how astonishingly creative this cohort of incredibly young men became in the process. ... Quantum is a fascinating, powerful and brilliantly written book that shows one of the most important theories of modern science in the making and discusses its implications for our ideas about the fundamental nature of the world and human knowledge, while presenting intimate and insightful portraits of people who made the science. Highly recommended.' thebookbag.co.uk -- thebookbag.co.uk

'If you need an improving book for the autumn, with which to impress your friends and family, look no further. Manjit Kumar, who is trained as both a philosopher and a physicist, is eminently qualified to bring off this ambitious attempt to bring the story of the discovery of quantum physics to life for the layperson. He mixes up biography, narrative history and lucid explanation of the science involved to create a highly readable account of one of the most important but impenetrable topics of twentieth century thinking.' 26.org.uk -- 26.org.uk

'Kumar is an accomplished writer who knows how to separate the excitement of the chase from the sometimes impenetrable mathematics. In Quantum he tells the story of the conflict between two of the most powerful intellects of their day: the hugely famous Einstein and the less well-known but just as brilliant Dane, Niels Bohr.' Financial Times -- Financial Times

'Manjit Kumar's Quantum is a super-collider of a book, shaking together an exotic cocktail of free-thinking physicists, tracing their chaotic interactions and seeing what God-particles and black holes fly up out of the maelstrom. He provides probably the most lucid and detailed intellectual history ever written of a body of theory that makes other scientific
revolutions look limp-wristed by comparison.' -- Independent, 5th December 2008

'Kumar is an accomplished writer who knows how to separate the excitement of the chase from the sometimes impenetrable mathematics. In Quantum he tells the story of the conflict between two of the most powerful intellects of their day: the hugely famous Einstein and the less well-known but just as brilliant Dane, Niels Bohr.' -- Financial Times

Review

'Kumar is an accomplished writer who knows how to separate the excitement of the chase from the sometimes impenetrable mathematics. In Quantum he tells the story of the conflict between two of the most powerful intellects of their day: the hugely famous Einstein and the less well-known but just as brilliant Dane, Niels Bohr.'

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
125 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant account of a fundamental subject 9 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback
The development of quantum physics through the 20th century is one of the great adventures of science, and here at last is a book aimed at the layperson which clearly explains its key concepts, while situating the scientific development in its broader setting. The result is a challenging and enthralling read.

Quantum is appropriately sub-titled, Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality. The long theoretical duel between these two giants of modern physics is a recurring theme of the book, but the story starts before them with the build-up to the discovery of Planck's constant at the turn of the century, and continues beyond their deaths (in 1955 and 1962 respectively) to take in Bell's Theorem and Everett's "many worlds" interpretation. Along the way we meet other great physicists such as Rutherford, Heisenberg, Pauli, Schrödinger, Dirac and Bohm.

One might suspect that a book of such scope would be in danger of being overcrowded with theories and theorists, yet Kumar rises to the challenge, displaying a novelist's sense of pacing allied with an impressive scientific clarity and succinctness. Clearly he has taken to heart the famous injunction attributed to Einstein to "make it as simple as possible, but no simpler!" He also strikes a judicious balance between scientific explanation and human context. This provided for me a welcome alternation between the physics and the lives of the physicists, with each stimulating an interest in the other.

What is so powerful and inspiring about this book is the way it conveys the passion for truth of those great pioneers. No doubt ego played its part as well, they would hardly have been human otherwise, but it is always secondary to the great quest to fathom the nature of sub-atomic reality.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The human story of quantum mechanics 21 Aug 2011
By D. Jones #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Quantum mechanics is one of the most successful scientific theories ever made. But it is utterly non-intuitive for both the scientist and non-scientist alike.

In our everyday lives, things happen for a reason - you place a fork on a table and unless someone comes along and moves it, you can be certain that it will be still there the next day. Not so in the atomic world of quantum mechanics, an electron might be here... or it might be there ... or over there. In fact it could be anywhere in the universe at any given time. Quantum mechanics predicts this behaviour in the form of a probability wave function. And it works.

But is this the true nature of reality?

This is the theme of the book. We have two great scientists - Einstein and Niels Bohr who have a fundamental difference of opinion about the nature of reality.

From Einstein's' point of view, an electron has a real set of parameters such as location, velocity, spin and so on that is independent of an observer. He admits that quantum mechanics does a good job in predicting atomic behaviour but he is convinced the theory is not complete.

On the other hand, there is Niels Bohr's vision that an electron (or any microscopic entity) has no reality until an observer chooses to measure one of its parameters. He considers quantum mechanics to be complete with no further need for revision or modification.

This argument goes on for decades. The book takes the reader through the panoply of scientists who helped put quantum theory together from its beginnings around 1900 to today. Scientists such as Max Planck, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Oppenheimer, Von Neumann and many, many others are included.

The appeal of this book is that it brings humanity to the story of quantum mechanics.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quantum 22 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback
I have always been fascinated by how 'it' all fits together, but struggle to find the time to concentrate on dry theoretical texts. It was therefore with great delight that I found myself engrossed in Quantum on the tube, the bus and even occasionally the walk in between. Manjit Kumar's writing eases you effortlessly into the some of the most complex ideas in physics by juxtaposing the personal stories of the authors playing out through the 20th century with the theories themselves. Sufficient detail is provided to challenge all but the most experienced reader, and a comprehensive references list encourages further exploration for those who need to dig even deeper. While having to admit to only momentary glimpses of both the elusive beauty, and the black hole enveloped by quantum theory, I felt strangely comforted that even Einstein struggled to fully embrace such a world.

Highly recommended
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70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quantum Theory - The Human Story 17 Oct 2008
Format:Hardcover
This is fascinating book written as a narrative history of those scientists who contributed to the development of Quantum Theory - one of the most important challenges to orthodox thinking in the whole history of ideas.

The book does a very good job of establishing how classical physics of the 19th Century was seen as completed and except for a few minor details that needed tidying up, the consensus was that nothing really fundamental at a theoretical level was left to discover.
Kumar explores how this certainty that physics was done and dusted came to unravel and how an idea as counter intuitive as the quantum came to be accepted by most physicists.

This manner of exploring quantum theory through its historical development allows anyone with a basic grasp of science to understand why it is so revolutionary in its implications. At the centre of this story is the struggle between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr about what our attitude to the reality should be.

Mixing historical narrative with the scientific ideas that were in contention brings quantum theory to a much broader audience of readers than is generally possible with this sort of material.

Part social history, part popular science as well as raising questions of a philosophical nature - this makes a cracking read and comes highly recommended.

Jenny Gardener
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A really interesting account of an exciting period in the ...
A really interesting account of an exciting period in the development of Physics. For me it has just the right mix of history and science but if you are just interested in the... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Aleman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Perfect.
Published 17 days ago by charles sanderson
5.0 out of 5 stars A quantum of solace
This book differs from most writings about quantum theory, in focusing more on the human aspects of the great endeavour to uncover one of nature's deepest secrets - what is... Read more
Published 1 month ago by JRF
5.0 out of 5 stars A GOOD READ
Bought this book for my partner. He says that it's very comprehensive and a good read. He's just reading through it for the second time.
Published 2 months ago by BiffyB
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
Gripping reading, both in the articulate description of the development of the bizarre subject of quantum theory from a scientific, mathematical and philosophical perspective, and... Read more
Published 3 months ago by dsh
5.0 out of 5 stars physics brought to life
A thoroughly enjoyable book which I wish had been available when I studied physics.
Recommended for physics students today to see how the greatest minds struggled to... Read more
Published 3 months ago by M.J.Howard
5.0 out of 5 stars Science is done by people
This is a fascinating account of the origins and development of quantum physics, rich with personal detail. Read more
Published 3 months ago by L. Rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into great scientists' thinking.
This book is well worth reading on two levels: the way scientists think and approach problems; and the state of frontier science in the late 19th and early 2oth centuries. Read more
Published 3 months ago by northstar
3.0 out of 5 stars Too detailed for me and got a little dull
It's an excellent piece of research and a historical compilation in minute detail, but I found a little TOO much detail detracted from the story. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Matt W
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I love not fully understanding quantum physics, it's great to read how these genii fit in to our scientific history.
Published 3 months ago by Ian a
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