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Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell Hardcover – 10 Mar 2003

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  • Hardcover: 536 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (10 Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691010196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691010199
  • Product Dimensions: 24.7 x 16.1 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,139,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Zee's book is written in the colloquial style of a good blackboard lecture, with gems of wisdom and amusing but relevant anecdotes scattered throughout. Zee has an infectious enthusiasm and a remarkable talent for slicing through technical mumbo jumbo to arrive at the heart of a problem. Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell is quite simply a triumph. I have not had this much fun with a physics book since reading The Feynman Lectures on Physics. . . . The purpose of Zee's book is not to turn students into experts--it is to make them fall in love with the subject. And Zee succeeds brilliantly. Moreover, there is nothing superficial about the depth of understanding or the choice of topics in Zee's book. The author speaks with the clarity and authority that come only from a leading practitioner in the field. . . . [I]t is for anyone who wishes to experience the sheer beauty and elegance of quantum field theory.
(Zvi Bern Physics Today)


Quantum field theory is an extraordinarily beautiful subject, but it can be an intimidating one. The profound and deeply physical concepts it embodies can get lost, to the beginner, amidst its technicalities. In this book, Zee imparts the wisdom of an experienced and remarkably creative practitioner in a user-friendly style. I wish something like it had been available when I was a student.
(Frank Wilczek, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

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Quantum field theory arose out of our need to describe the ephemeral nature of life. Read the first page
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Fleming on 23 Feb 2010
Format: Hardcover
The amazon.com listing for this text has many more reviews and should be visited if you are thinking about purchasing this book.

There are many modern textbooks on this subject and students tackling QFT for the first time often find difficulty in reading them. Zee is commonly recommended for students who are coming out of a good quantum mechanics introduction. The 'Nutshell' title does not imply that the material is lacking in rigour or breadth.

Those who find this book 'incomprehensible' probably do not have the necessary prerequisite knowledge and should be studying more elementary subjects to prepare for QFT.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mr. M. Mcgarrie on 17 April 2007
Format: Hardcover
I wish more technical books could be written like this. Its emphasis is understanding, not getting bogged down in the calculations. An excellent book to get clear answers.

HOWEVER, be careful!!! If you are learning quantum field theory for the first time then you might learn perturbation theory either in terms the Hamiltonian picture or the path integral picture. This book takes the path integral picture and if you don't know anything about path integrals you might want to do some background reading into Feynman and Hibbs etc. Also, I you are learning the Hamiltonian perturbation then this book might confuse at first and won't aid your studies directly at first.

Let me say again, after reading this book you will really feel like you have learned without too much effort. It won't be such an uphill struggle as some books are (Peskin and Shroeder). If you don't mind starting with learning QFT in terms of path integrals (which is the fun way I think) then this is the book for you but if you are buying this to supplement a course at university then check first which picture you are going to learn about and maybe stick to that picture... at first.

(MSci student completing a project on Path Integrals)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My favourite textbook on Quantum Mechanics became J.J.Sakurai. And Zee is my favourite on QFT these days. It is deep yet delivered with lightness and intellectual elegance.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J on 6 July 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Physics is most fun with books by this author.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 56 reviews
173 of 174 people found the following review helpful
Funny, chatty, physical. QFT education transformed!! 6 Mar 2004
By M. Haque - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This Quantum Field Theory text stands apart from others in so many ways that it's difficult to list them all :-). A very unique QFT introductory text.

One problem with learning QFT is that it is so easy to get lost in the mathematical details that the core physics concepts often get obscured.

In my opinion, Tony Zee overcomes this particular problem quite successfully. He keeps algebra to a bare minimum, and tries to find the shortest route to the physics ideas. He chooses examples that illustrate concepts in the fastest possible way.

The chapters are short. So refreshing! Each chapter has one or two core ideas. You can go through one in ten minutes (glossing over the math), and then you go back and do the math.

Part I (first eighty or so pages) is called "Motivation and Foundation" and is a rapid introduction to QFT. It is also a summary and sweeping overview --- introducing path integrals and Feynman diagrams and making a very intuitive transition from Quantum mechanics to Field theory.

The next three parts cover spin-1/2 particles (Dirac spinors), renormalization, and symmetry (breaking), standard fare for QFT texts. A sampling of condensed-matter applications is given in Parts V & VI, and then current high-energy topics are treated in parts VII & VIII.

The applications make this text stand out. There is a selection of advanced current topics like the quantum hall physics, surface growth, string theory, D-branes and quantum gravity, not usually found in introductory field theory texts. Of course none of these topics can be done justice in a book at this level, but getting a taste of advanced issues is a great treat.

The exposition is breezy and chatty, as the author admits was his intention. The text is never boring to read, and is at times very, very funny. Puns and jokes abound, as do anecdotes involving the inventors of QFT.

Renormalization is discussed through a lively dialog between student Confusio, a female Smart Experimentalist (SE), and a senior (Egghead) theorist. Ode to Galileo! Section headings alternate between serious and hilarious --- one section is called "Wisdom of the son-in-law". The path integral formulation of quantum mechanics comes out of a conversation between a teacher and a "wise-guy" student, who happens to be Feynman.

And so on and so forth.

The net result is a book which is much easier, and more fun, to read than any of the other common QFT books out there. Tony Zee's skills as a popular physics writer have been used to excellent effect in writing this textbook.

One more distinctive feature is that there is equal emphasis on condensed-matter and high-energy applications. Most QFT texts today, unfortunately, are so biased toward particle-physics that they tend to put off condensed-matter students. A. Zee has broken the mold!

Is the treatment "over"-simplified? Maybe simplified, but not dumbed-down. The high concept-to-pain ratio certainly seems worth the simplification.

Is this text only good as a supplement? Well, it is after all a "Nutshell", so maybe other texts are better for details. But as an introduction to QFT concepts, few other books match this.

Wholeheartedly recommended.
74 of 75 people found the following review helpful
Required reading for QFT 2 Jan 2004
By Alexander Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
From my experiences in quantum field theory: The kind that you can read, the kind that work out examples, and the kind that your professors want you to understand. The last are Jackson-esque tomes like Peskin and Schroeder that dummies like me in a QFT class will never be able to use ("dummies in a QFT class" may sound like an oxymoron, but we're not all geniuses...). The kind of texts that works out examples, like the text by Lahiri and Pal, have been invaluable to me, but I still have not always been able to understand the IDEAS contained in the mathematics.
"QFT in a Nutshell" heralds the introduction of a book on quantum field theory that you can sit down and read. My professor's lectures made much more sense as I followed along in this book, because concepts were actually EXPLAINED, not just worked out. I still recommend having all three types of texts, but I am glad that now I have three types and not just the last two.
However, it might make sense to incorporate some of the explicit problem solving in Lahiri and Pal into "QFT in a Nutshell"; while I could understand the English, the math solutions often were difficult to follow. Just a thought.
59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
A readable, and re-readable instant classic on QFT 29 Jun 2005
By Flip Tomato - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have often heard graduate students say that QFT is a course that one must really take twice to understand properly--once to pick up the math, and then once again to pick up the physics. Zee's QFT in a Nutshell may change this conventional wisdom.

I took a QFT course taught out of Peskin and Schroder as an undergraduate immediately after an undergrad-level Quantum Mechanics course taught out of Griffiths. Zee's book helped bridge the gap between the two courses and proved to be a golden resource for insight beyond the standard texts. While Peskin and Schroder (and many of the other modern standards--Ryder, Weinberg, Kaku to some extent) are very meticulous mathematically, "QFT in a Nutshell" introduces the mathematical tools and is then meticulous about a strong physical understanding of the topic. Zee won't let you lose sight of the big picture and his expertise in teaching the subject really shows up in his ability to highlight commonly misunderstood topics and to elucidate them with beautiful, intuitive, and physical explanations.

This is not to say, however, that Zee leaves out any of the requisite mathematics. Wick contractions and rotations, gaussian integrals, the Clifford algebra of Dirac spinors... it's all there (and often explained in unique ways that clearly delimit the physics from the math)--Zee just leaves more of the details for the reader to work out (it's only then that one realizes how one uses the calculations in more traditional texts as a crutch of sorts). In this respect, Zee's book is also somewhat unique in providing hints and solutions to selected key exercises in the back of the book--giving readers a framework to work out calculations on their own (with all the necessary tools introduced), and then check their work. Often this leads to a much better understanding of the mathematics than following a long proof in a conventional text where it's not always clear when new tricks are being used here and there to reach a solution.

At an introductory level, this type of book--with it's pedagogical (and often very funny) narrative--is priceless. Whether you use it as a way to "get your feet wet" before taking a graduate level QFT course, or as a supplement to a more "calculational" text such as Peskin, as a text in its own right, or even as a reference, the book is full of fantastic insights akin to reading the Feynman lectures. I have since used "QFT in a Nutshell" as a review for the year-long course covering all of Peskin and Schroder, and have been pleasantly surprised at how Zee is able to pre-emptively answer many of the open questions that eluded me during my course.

Zee's very short chapters and anecdotes make it an excellent book to read cover-to-cover. One can absorb a few sections of the book at a time as bedtime reading and be amazed at how much understanding is packed into the short expositions.

For example, in chapter I.2 (unfortunately not available through the Amazon preview at the time of this review--perhaps Google print?) Zee explains the path integral formulation using a "very Zen-like" thought experiment based on the double slit experiment. In typical fashion, Zee presents the explanation in the frame of an annoying student ("Feynman") in a quantum mechanics class who asks the professor what happens when one adds more holds to the screen of the double slit experiment... and then more screens--until you have infinite screens each with infinite holes. Later on he introduces a character, Confusio, who asks all the 'naive' (but deep!) questions that a good QFT student should be thinking about. In this way, Zee is able to teach the subject while encouraging his readers to actively interpret and understand theories rather than formulae. Along the way, Zee's anecdotes also impart a pleasantly surprising amount of "culture" --humorous stories about the early days of Feynman digrams, quotes from old texts (one priceless quote from Bjorken and Drell expressing the "dangers" of the renormalization group was particularly funny), and a dash of historical motivation.

The latter part of Zee's text serves as an introduction to many aspects of current research. While Zee's first four chapters present the core of a particle-oriented QFT course, the following chapters contain brief and readable introductions to more specific topics. I found this especially valuable as a way to bridge my understanding from my first QFT course to being able to pick up review articles on supersymmetry. Later on, I've found Zee an excellent resource to answer typical 'beginning grad student questions' such as: What is a soliton/instanton, how does grand unification work, what do I know about gravitons? Sure, there are only a few pages dedicated to each of these topics, but those pages provide the heuristic insight that is an invaluable guide/motivator through more technical review literature. If you want to learn the nitty gritty about solitons and instantons, then go read a book on solitons and instantons. If you want to know what the heck a soliton/instanton is and why the heck you should spend hours reading about them, and, on top of that, you're a grad student so you don't have any time to read more than a few pages right now, then Zee's a great place to get the main idea and (more importantly) place it in context.

It may sound sacrosanct, but I value "QFT in a Nutshell" the same way I do the Feynman lectures. In response to some of the other comments that Zee's book doesn't treat calculations very thoroughly, this is true--but this is *not* a negative. Zee's book isn't a recipie book for Feynman diagram calculations, it's a text to teach an understanding of physics. In the same way, one could complain that the Feynman lectures were weakened by the fact that they didn't explain very nut and bolt about how to calculate problems in freshman physics.

So, a nutshell: You'll want to get a copy of Zee because it's excellent (if not indispensable) when you're beginning to learn QFT. You'll want to keep Zee because his later chapters will continue to shed light on the path beyond the standard QFT course. (And you'll want to keep fishing for more jokes and anecdotes.)
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Not your father's quantum field theory text 8 Jun 2003
By Dan Dill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The first sentence of the text sets the tone: "Quantum field theory arose out of our need to describe the ephemeral nature of life." (The entire first chapter is available at [...]) This is *not* your father's quantum field theory text. I particularly appreciate that things are motivated physically before their mathematical articulation. Further, the author is willing to fill in steps (in chapter appendices), rather than take the "it will be recalled" or "it can be shown" approach across intermediate steps. Most especially though, the author's "heuristic" descriptions are the best I have read anywhere. From them alone the essential ideas become crystal clear. If you are comfortable with non-relativistic quantum mechanics and special relativity, but not so with their union, I think you will find this book very helpful.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A must read book if you want to understand essentials in QFT 9 Oct 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am really pleased that Zee undertook to write this book. QFT can be a hefty topic. All too often, writers of many texts know their topic well but do an inadequate job of conveying to the reader where they are leading them as well as identifying the important insights that can be gleaned. In this manner, Zee's book stands out from the crowd. He likes to explain how to reason through a problem or idea. As I started reading the text, I found many things started making a lot more sense to me.
From my perspective, Zee's book serves a dual role:
1) Its a great book for picking up lots of useful concepts and techniques.
2) Now that I have some orientation and sense of direction, I can go back to some of other texts on QFT and Superstring Theory and begin prying open some of the less accessible topics.
The technical community is in need of more books like this. I hope Zee will go on to publish additional textbooks on related topics (for both an introductory level, and separately on a more advanced level).
You should be aware that this book has three prerequisites: reasonable knowledge of Quantum Mechanics, Relativity Theory and a certain level of mathematical maturity. Without these prerequisites, you won't get very far in this book and will need to supplement it; whether having some other texts handy, or enlisting the help of a fellow colleague or professor to fill in the gaps.
All in all, QFT in a Nutshell is a wonderful find. For the money and time spent putting my nose to the grindstone to learn something new and useful, this book has truly turned out to be one of my better purchases.
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