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Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You: A Guide to the Universe Paperback – 4 Sep 2008


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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (4 Sept. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571235468
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571235469
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 87,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A must-read for anyone who wants to better understand this crazy universe we live in. Superb.' -- Astronomy Now

'Readers will experience happy eureka moments.' -- The Times

A bright and challenging book. I wholly recommend it.
-- The Daily Mail, November 23, 2007

Charming and revelatory. -- The Independent, September 19, 2008

Chown is a skilled writer who clearly understands his subject. An excellent and accessible book. -- New Humanist, December 2007

No need to be scared. Expect to be thoroughly entertained. Thoroughly recommended. -- BBC Sky at Night Magazine, January 2008

Weird, sexy and mind-blowing. -- Nature, April 13, 2006

Review

'A must-read for anyone who wants to better understand this crazy universe we live in. Superb.'

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Gavin Simpson on 28 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steve on 15 May 2009
Format: Paperback
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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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Sid Nuncius #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on 6 Oct. 2008
Format: Paperback
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 By Ms. L. J. Oliver VINE VOICE on 9 Dec. 2007
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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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By J. Bolch on 15 Jan. 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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