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Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You [Hardcover]

Marcus Chown
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Nov 2007
The two towering achievements of modern physics are quantum theory and Einstein's general theory of relativity. Together, they explain virtually everything about the world we live in. But, almost a century after their advent, most people haven't the slightest clue what either is about. Did you know that there's so much empty space inside matter that the entire human race could be squeezed into the volume of a sugar cube? Or that you grow old more quickly on the top floor of a building than on the ground floor? And did you realise that 1 percent of the static on a TV tuned between stations is a relic of the Big Bang?

Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (1 Nov 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057123545X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571235452
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 481,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A brief, non-mathematical introduction to quantum theory and relativity. Succeeds magnificently. -- New Humanist, December 2007

Chown proves it is perfectly possible to explain hard physics without needing mathematics and graphs. Thoroughly recommended. -- BBC Sky at Night, January 2008

Lay readers, delighted by Chown's vivid imagery and lively humour, will experience several happy Eureka moments. -- The Times, November 17, 2007

Science doesn't come harder than this but Chown makes it all look so easy. -- New Scientist, December 1, 2007

Weird, sexy and mind-blowing. It's remarkable the number of new ways Chown has found to explain difficult and abstract concepts.
-- Nature, April 13, 2006


'A must-read for anyone who wants to better understand this crazy universe we live in. Superb.' --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brief but painless introduction 28 Dec 2008
I bought this book at a book signing event in Waterstones whilst waiting around for Ben Goldacre to show up to sign his book Bad Science. Marcus Chown was also in attendance and I chatted a while with him about this book amongst other things.

I have read several books on physics and quantum theory by authors such as Brian Green, John Gribbin and Stephen Hawking and was familiar with quantum theory; familiar in the sense that I have a vague understanding of the topic and find it thoroughly interesting but decidedly bonkers.

Given my existing "knowledge", I wasn't sure if this book would be for me, but I bought it anyway, and now, having found a few spare hours dotted through the Christmas holiday, I am very glad indeed that I did.

The book is split into two parts; i) Small Things and ii) Big Things. Small things discusses the strange world of quantum theory, wave-particle duality, interference, superposition, quantum tunnelling and the like, whilst part two focusses, in general, on Einstein's theories of relativity.

Given the book's title, I was surprised at the amount of space given over to relativity. (That little bit of prior "knowledge" meant I figured the author intended to bring us full circle and explain why General/Special relativity break down when describing the very small in black holes or at the Big Bang - which he does.) However, the Big stuff sits nicely alongside the Small and in the final chapter prepares readers for the even stranger world that string theorists inhabit.

The book progresses at an nice, even pace with plenty of examples and illustrations, which, given the topic, end up being a little contrived and exaggerated.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent non-specialist account 6 Oct 2008
This is a first-rate book. If you're looking for an account of the current state of Quantum Mechanics and Relativity which is accessible to a non-scientist and takes you from the basics through to most recent developments, this is for you. It is easy to read, but doesn't fudge issues or patronise and has real intellectual weight beneath a thoroughly good-humoured surface. Marcus Chown has been one of our best scientific writers in journals like New Scientist for many years and has already written several really good books. This is well up to standard and I recommend it without reservation. A cracker.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous! 9 Dec 2007
By Ms. L. J. Oliver VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I failed my last physics exam in 1983 with a grand score of 19% and was not allowed to take it at O level! Having had what I consider to have been one of the worst science teachers ever, I had never shown the remotest bit of interest in physics since. Then I discovered this man's books. I picked one up at a friend's house and was hooked. This is now the third one of his that I've read and he has opened my eyes to the wonders that are out there. It's a fascintating read which is pretty accessible to the average person if the reader is prepared to put a bit of effort in to concentrating on the trickier aspects.

Well worth a try even if you're a physics sceptic as I was!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of two theories 15 Jan 2008
This book explains, in language understandable by (almost) anyone, two of the most important and least understood concepts in physics: quantum theory and the general theory of relativity.

"I think that I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics", the great physicist Richard Feynman famously said. I'm sure he was right, and I certainly don't claim now to understand it, but at least after reading this book I feel for the first time that I have a basic grasp of some of the abstruse concepts involved, aided by the many incredible facts Chown sprinkles through the book, such as that the entire human race would fit in the volume of a sugar cube.

The second half of the book deals with Einstein's theory of relativity. The concepts here are far more familiar to me, but again Chown describes them in an elegant and accessible way, once again illustrating them with simple but memorable analogies and facts, such as that you age faster at the top of a building than the bottom.

Another reviewer complains that the book has no diagrams, something I noted with surprise when I first opened it. However, it is so clearly written that no diagrams are required - I certainly didn't ever feel I needed a diagram as I was reading it.

If you have an interest in these subjects (and, as they are central to everything in the universe, I think you should), then I thoroughly recommend this extremely readable book (even if it has a completely naff cover!).
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating 7 Nov 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
chown's latest offering is a fairly slender, but highly fascinating volume which runs through the physics of the very small (quantum theory) and the very big (general relativity) with pointers along the way where they interface. as usual for chown, it's all told with easy-to-understand descriptions, analogies and speculations, along with all the groundwork necessary to follow it through logically. the latter part of this book - the physics of the very big - is by far the more interesting (to me anyway).

well worth reading.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but a little too brief 15 May 2009
By Steve
A whistlestop tour through the two theories that underpin pretty much all modern physics - quantum theory, and relativity. The title is somewhat misleading as this is very much a book of two halves - 'Small Things' and 'Big Things'. It's also surprisingly short, consisting of just 80 pages on quantum theory and 71 on relativity, and that's it! Well, besides the admittedly ample glossary, which appears to be a staple of Chown's books.

That said, it manages to cram in some of the important stuff to varying degrees of success. Chown's down-to-earth writing style helps, but there's no escaping the problem that condensing topics like quantum entanglement and probability waves to this extent will necessarily sacrifice answers to a whole host of follow-up questions that arise to the curious beginner. Still, there are some good explanations and analogies, particularly on time dilation. For me though, it didn't quite live up to the standard of Chown's earlier book, The Magic Furnace.

By all means give it a go if you're a beginner - you'll no doubt expand or strengthen your understanding of at least some aspects of the subject. Just don't be surprised if you wind up with a lot of unanswered questions by the end of it.

[EDIT: I have since read Jim Al-Khalili's Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed. It's a bit more expensive, but I have to say it was definitely worth it: better explained, and probably the kind of book this one should have been. It's now apparent just how much information was lacking in Chown's book, not to mention the vital role a diagram can play when grappling with a new concept.]
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars but I seem to recall that I enjoyed reading it
I cant remember much of what was in this book, but I seem to recall that I enjoyed reading it.
Published 11 days ago by Colinberg
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brief and Harmless Introduction to the Universe
This book offers the most straightforward explanations of the two biggest theories of modern physics, quantum and relativity, that it's possible to imagine. Read more
Published 5 months ago by S. Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars Have read Marcus Chown before.
I read this particular edition to the end and thought it introduced me to the subject well. It left me wanting to explore it further, which is always good for any intro book to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by mikepro
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent read
this is an excellent read an I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in science and the impact these theories have on our lives.
Published 5 months ago by Geoff Jackson
5.0 out of 5 stars Universe
That is all about the universe. If you like the the subject you will like this book it's really interesting.
Published 6 months ago by Seyna
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and deep.
First class but as always there is an explanatory gap at some crucial point. However I don't know a better popular book on the subject.
Published 7 months ago by NSR
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Love the title
I have really enjoyed this book
I Have read others by the author Marcus Chown and was not disappointed in any of them
Such a fascinating subject - buy... Read more
Published 9 months ago by oceanade
1.0 out of 5 stars very pleased with everything so far
very good condition, the book is very good and easy to unsersand, if you have a bit of knowledge about phisics
Published 9 months ago by angelo
5.0 out of 5 stars My brain hurts
Have been plodding through this book for weeks on my Kindle and I am finding it fascinating although it does make my brain hurt!!
Published 9 months ago by Oldtimer
4.0 out of 5 stars Handy reference
This is not a book you read and discard it is full of information that can be readily referred to.
The subject matter is one that needs study and consideration which is why it... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Derek
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