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

Manjit Kumar
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 April 2009
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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310358
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310353
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 57,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BBC SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION 2009 -- Icon Books

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.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On what comes first 5 May 2010
Format:Paperback
I bought this book as a partial response to my 12 year old son's questions: "But what is infinity?" "How do we know that something is real?" He left me stumped and not a little challenged. I needed to get beyond Dr Who and thought the book might sate him.

Curiosity got the better of me and I was soon drawn into a world enriched by well drawn characters. Names that I had heard of but didn't know much about - Planck, Geiger, Rutherford, but others too, more familiar - like Hitler and GB Shaw. Others yet, I was glad to make the acquaintance of, like Wolfgang Pauli, described as a Buddha with a biting tongue. And John Stewart Bell of Belfast and Dr Bertelsmann's socks.

Quantum reads like an epic novel, with Einstein and Bohr cast as the main protagonists, with scientific truth taking the place of elusive love, an obscure object of their desires. Kumar's evocative and fluid prose describes the passion for ideas that is at the centre of the story. I didn't feel that I needed to understand it all, but understood what drove them.

But what of the science? Kumar does not shy away from the science but nor does he make it seem insurmountable to a lay reader. Boyle's law explained in a succinct paragraph is a model of elegant science writing.

There is much to commend Quantum apart from its opening up of this area of science. Kumar deftly weaves in the social and political context in which the characters are brought to life. A fundraising dinner for impoverished East European Jews hosted by Baron Rothschild in October 1930, is attended by Einstein. The septuagenarian GB Shaw toasts him: "Ptolemy made a universe which lasted 1,400 years. Newton, also, made a universe which lasted for 300 years.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal
I found this fascinating and wonderfully written. Hard going at times but that's inevitable given the subject. I found Manjit Kumar's writing style very readable and enjoyable. Read more
Published 3 days ago by The Weasel
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
All good
Published 1 month ago by Jeremy Kahn
5.0 out of 5 stars For me this was a very important read
I learnt a lot from this very readable book about advances in the physical sciences. I need to read it again.
Published 1 month ago by G. R. Hunt
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 2 months ago by Aleman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Perfect.
Published 2 months 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 3 months 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 4 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 4 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 4 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 5 months ago by L. Rose
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