250 of 262 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thinking can take you a long way
This isn't a safe book. It isn't one of those well crafted yet bland and simplified introductions to quantum physics, the type that breeze you on through the history and development of our realisations. Don't get me wrong - those are good books, many of which would complement and round out this latest offering from Cox and Forshaw. Instead, this is a book to make you...
Published on 2 Nov 2011 by Burntember
71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I surrender!
I passed A level physics and actually did part of an engineering degree (40 years ago) so I dont think I am a complete dummy though 50 years out of date when it comes to these sort of discussions. I have tried for years to find a really comprehensible book that lets me begin to think I might just be getting the quantum thing at long last. This book is not it, leastways,...
Published on 8 Dec 2011 by Adam Smith
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250 of 262 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thinking can take you a long way,
This isn't a safe book. It isn't one of those well crafted yet bland and simplified introductions to quantum physics, the type that breeze you on through the history and development of our realisations. Don't get me wrong - those are good books, many of which would complement and round out this latest offering from Cox and Forshaw. Instead, this is a book to make you think for yourself and wrestle down those fleeting shadows of insight as they flit past our consciousness, until, as if we were making the discoveries with them anew, we have our own little "Eureka" moments.
Starting from the most basic of principles and following the simplest and, one might say, obvious rules, Cox and Forshaw use a novel conceptual technique to lead us from the microcosmic world of the quantum into discovering why the macro world is as it is. More than that, we are left realising that it is not the quantum world that behaves strangely at all, but that the world as we know it is an amazing and yet inevitable realisation of the counter-intuitive behaviour of the quantum world.
The discovery and realisation of just why a particle-like nature appears out from a wave function is then surpassed by the insight into the limitations of quantum fluctuations and the revelation of how "real movement" occurs. The same conceptual technique shows why quantum behaviour is "fuzzy" and how, without resorting to macro-view analogies, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is built in to the fabric of the universe.
Frankly, had they stopped there I would have had my monies worth. But they then go on to demonstrate how these insights must truly be present in the quantum world in order for our modern discoveries and technological developments to work.
In a final act of exuberance, Cox and Forshaw pose their own version of an Einsteinian thought experiment... taking some basic axioms from physics and the nature of quantum behaviour to demonstrate how it is possible to calculate the maximum mass of a dead star. Yes, this section is a delve into the world of equations (though rather more engineering than physics!), but you have to forgive them revealing their passion and revelling in the beauty of such a demonstration.
I would not give this book to my mother for Christmas. But it will appeal to anyone with a passion to discover how the physical world works. It will challenge you to think for yourself and reward you as "the penny drops". I wish that I had read it when I was fifteen years old... what an inspiration that would have been!
125 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating & enthusiastic introduction,
Most of the reviews I've seen for this book seem to be either from scientists who 'get it' or laymen who do not. All I can say is that I don't come from a scientific background, having found it all rather baffling at school but have become more interested in the subject later in life. This is the first book I've read on Quantum Theory & thanks to the clear explanations provided by Forshaw & Cox (AKA 'him out of D:REAM / off the telly with the haircut & telescope'), I both understood & enjoyed it. But then of course, there's the maxim about Quantum Theory that 'if you think you understand it, then you probably don't...'
Cox & Forshaw present this intimidating subject in a clear & reassuring way. There are areas where mathematical formulae are used but they reassure their readers that we shouldn't worry, that they are merely there for people who understand them & for the rest of us, the main points will be explained in the text. So while I found them intimidating at first glance, the authors' excellent breakdowns made them understandable while giving me a deeper appreciation of why mathematics is so important to Physics.
While the authors explain it very clearly, there's no hiding from the fact that this is a pretty mind-bending subject. Cox & Forshaw believe that the difficulty most people have is in assuming that what they call 'small things' must conform to the same rules as 'big things', such as only ever being in one place at once; apparently they do not, instead behaving in a accordance with a totally unique & much less concrete set of rules. So anyone expecting to be able to have a relaxing, passive read & come out of it understanding how a single electron can behave like an entire wave will find their expectations scuppered.
The subject does require effort & those of us who struggle may be reassured to know that we're in auspicious company - Quantum Theory is apparently so unlike the deterministic approach to Physics which preceded it that its pioneers were relatively young & the 'old guard' scientists (including Einstein) found it singularly baffling. But as the authors point out, it's not so much that Quantum Theory is weird, it's more that our 'common-sense' notions of how the world works are pretty bizarre when you take a close look at what's really going on. To this end, the authors address the issue of why we can't actually walk through walls (as actually attempted by the real-life Men Who Stare at Goats). Not only is this an entertaining notion but it also illustrates how unconventional quantum thinking has to be - because what initially sounds like a question too absurd to be worthy of consideration becomes much more puzzling when we consider that the atoms which make up ourselves & the wall consist almost entirely of 'empty' space.
So as long as you can push your preconceptions aside & embrace some pretty challenging ideas, then this is a fascinating read. Not only is it as clear an explanation as you're likely to encounter but the authors' sheer enthusiasm for the subject is utterly contagious. If nothing else, this is an awe-inspiring summary of how utterly clever primates clinging to a rock in the middle of nowhere can be.
66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
Any review of this book probably needs to be prefaced with a declaration of the reviewer's academic credentials, so I have to declare up front 'A' level physics and a PhD in mathematics. I think this is relevant rather than a misguided attempt at trumpet blowing because one's familiarity with certain concepts inevitably colours judgement of a book that does to some part attempt to engage the reader with the nuts and bolts of a difficult subject rather than resort entirely to hand waving and analogy.
Factual matters first; this is a short (200 pages) book whose mission is to provide a reader not versed in mathematics or physics beyond GCSE level (or less) an insight into the behaviour of the universe at the level of the very small. There are difficult but rather beautiful concepts here, and the authors are attempting to convey the essence of those concepts in a way that requires some effort on the part of the reader; clearly a detailed mathematical approach is going to leave all but a small percentage of people lost, but in order to talk sensibly about the subject at all does at least require some acknowledgement of the underlying maths.
As one of the core concepts that needs to be addressed in discussing quantum mechanics is that of complex numbers and Hilbert spaces, the authors have opted to represent this using the notion of one-handed clocks. This is where I can only guess as to whether someone who has never dealt with complex numbers will find this approach more or less confusing than the underlying maths; with my background I found that I was constantly translating the clock concept in my head to try and understand what the authors were actually getting at. Personally I would have preferred a more direct approach; e.g. define a complex number, explain how they are added and multiplied and then use that, but I can understand I'm probably in the minority here.
Overall I found the book very interesting; what I particularly admired was that the authors provided a real insight into why the seemingly bizarre concepts of quantum mechanics can not only explain behaviour at the micro level, but also how those concepts "smooth out" into the more familiar behaviour of objects at our scale (e.g. why we "don't fall through the floor" if the vast proportion of any atom is "empty space").
Full marks to the final chapter too, where the authors do a little bit of mathematics and mathematical reasoning to derive the maximum mass of a star than will not form a black hole. For those that can stick with it, this gives a genuine taste of what it feels like to embark upon a proper 'proof' of something.
I also find the concept of a book that really challenges a lay readership to deal with something unfamiliar and difficult to be very refreshing. Too much information (scientific, political, financial etc.) is presented with a lowest common denominator
approach, treating you as someone too stupid to deal with anything but the simplest concepts. This book, and The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe are honourable attempts at countering that.
71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I surrender!,
I passed A level physics and actually did part of an engineering degree (40 years ago) so I dont think I am a complete dummy though 50 years out of date when it comes to these sort of discussions. I have tried for years to find a really comprehensible book that lets me begin to think I might just be getting the quantum thing at long last. This book is not it, leastways, not for me. Trouble is, all these books begin by making you believe that you will really begin to understand what all these clever wallahs with several degrees ranging from nuclear to astrophysics, through advanced maths with a bit of chemistry chucked in, are talking about. If you want to find out if this book is the key to unlocking the door of understanding, you will need to work pretty hard at it. The epilogue, entitled the death of stars, comes with a health warning; fair enough, but if it needs that, its certainly not for the man in the street. It left me quite numb and reaching for the gin.
If you are ready for this sort of stuff and I quote p177 "Dont be fooled into thinking there is something tricky going on." (You cannot be serious!!!) "All we are doing is writing down in a fancy shorthand something we already knew: take the clock at X3 and time zero and figure out by how much to turn and shrink it corresponding to the particle making the journey from X3 to X at some time T later and then repeat that for all of the other time-zero clocks and finally add all of the clocks together according to the clock-adding rule".
I surrender! you may be ready for this, but I am not. I gave it a three because I guess he does know what he is talking about. But I am still baffled.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many clocks,
Niels Bohr famously said that anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.
I will be the first to admit there are elements of quantum physics that I have difficulty understanding, but then I am not a professional physicist. However, while the quantum world still fascinates and perplexes me, it no longer shocks. I have no particular difficulty imagining an electron wave, or cloud, though that may be because I have a good grasp of probability theory and of the concept of imaginary numbers. I am no longer puzzled (not unduly anyway) by the essence of Schrodinger's thought experiment in which his now famous cat is both alive and dead at the same time.
And it is because I am fascinated by quantum theory that I was very much looking forward to reading The Quantum Universe.
Professor Cox is no doubt building on the success of his hugely informative and entertaining television series, and he and Professor Forshaw on the acclaim accorded their first published book Why Does E=mc2. I don't blame them for that. The clear explanations and conversational style of the book leaves the reader hopeful of more physics to come.
In The Quantum Universe, the two physicists set about satisfying these hopes by delving into the curious world of the subatomic particle and trying to explain electrons and photons in layman's terms and thereby describe the structure of atoms. The first couple of chapters are tantalising and we begin to expect an exposition of the subject matter in plain, albeit scientific, English (maybe with a few equations thrown in.) Well, we get one, or not, depending on our point of view and scientific expectations.
The authors choose to introduce their material in a novel way, that of likening the particle to a series of clocks, the position of the hands thereon representing the probability of finding the particle at any one position. With time and patience, it is possible to follow their argument and discover Heisenberg and Pauli, but I find it unnecessarily complicated. Being past the stage of reading science books in order to pass examinations, I have neither. I like to be entertained - to enjoy the simple pleasure of broadening my understanding of physics without pain. I have long been a fan of the writing of John Gribbin and for me he tackles quantum theory admirably in his two books on the subject.[* In Search of Schrodinger's Cat (1984) and Schrodinger's Kittens (1995)]
My own preference is to picture the quantum wave as a swarm of bees in which (somewhere) there is a queen, and its collapse as the point at which it stings you. That is too simple, of course, but it conveys the general idea.
Apart from the `clocks', Cox and Forshaw is actually quite fun to read. The book is well written and occasionally, if you are familiar with Cox's television programmes, you can hear his voice coming over in the prose. The writers never patronise, nor do they make donnish assumptions about the readers' knowledge. Once or twice they break off and mention probability and sine waves. As a musician, I especially enjoyed their chapter on the music of the atoms, which discusses standing waves and harmonics. The way they build the Periodic Table is good too, as is their explanation of potential with the help of diagrams. But then it was back to clocks and my brain glazed over again.
Finally, The Quantum Universe rounds off with an epilogue on the death of stars. I must read that again as it is quite mathematical.
For the general reader wishing an introduction to quantum physics, this is not the best book to read. It takes effort and commitment. But with a broad understanding of the subject - and a liking for clocks - it is illuminating and entertaining.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stop all the clocks...,
Sorry to abuse Auden, but that's how I felt 130 pages into this. I'm not a scientist, I grew up terrified of the sciences at school, so I made my home in the comfortably woolly ground of the humanities. I found that as I edged my way to 30, though, I needed some answers about the world and life in general. I don't have any faith and I felt that something big was missing from my picture of everything. I guess I craved, and still do crave, some kind of understanding. I discovered physics through BBC's Horizon and I remember just sitting spellbound one night listening to a theoretical physicist talking about the double slit experiment, how the nature of observation can apparently alter perceived reality. Physics, quantum mechanics, QED, M-theory, superstrings, multiverses, the poetry of supernovae dying to create the essential building blocks of all life in the universe... I'm entranced (still terrified!) but utterly entranced by the lot of it. I really, really want to understand, but I don't speak mathematics and I doubt I ever will, so I'm handicapped from the start. The language of the universe seems to be written in figures, not in human tongues, so I need a translator from the world of science to help me. A scientist with the skills of both philosopher and poet, and a desire to bridge the gulf between the maths/words worlds. I'm finding that these particular visionaries are incredibly rare and precious people - we need more of them!
Sorry, waffling, just wanted to set out where this reader was coming from. I haven't read any Hawking yet, because I feel like I need to work my way up to it - get in training, as it were. But I started with Max Tegmark's wonderful, dazzling, generous website (must recommend to all who are perplexed and eager, or even the lucky experts out there) then dipped a toe in a few Michio Kaku books, a little bit of Laurence Krauss, and then I discovered the wonderful man who was Richard Feynman - I'd give my eye teeth to have met him. Anyway, those are some of the highlights of the journey so far. Should also include Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything because it felt like the perfect level and tone for me, and was a great all-round eye-opener to all of science. I've had less luck with the work of David Deutsch, Lisa Randall and some of Brian Greene - they're undoubtedly brilliant, but I felt quite overwhelmed much of the time.
Unfortunately this offering from Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw falls firmly in the feels-like-drowning camp. The first few chapters zipped along okay, a nice scene-setting full of interesting history notes, and then... then the clocks were introduced. I managed to keep swimming for another 50 pages, I went back and re-read everything several times until I could practically recite it, but I got to the point where the clocks were no longer making any sense to me, and the sheer effort and stress of trying to understand, and feeling like a total troglodyte for floundering, made me set the book aside. I vowed I'd pick it up again, but it's been 2 months and it's still sitting on the window shelf, slowly fading in the sun. I can't blame either author for being too smart for me to follow, so please don't think I'm criticising them for my being thick, but they just don't bridge the communication gap for me- the prose it too deeply rooted in science and maths, in literally describing the maths especially, without anything much in the way of lifelines to grab hold of when you get out of your depth. There's also not much humour here, no lightness. The tone is strictly descriptive and rather monotonous, to be honest. Sure, I'm not looking for laughs, I'm looking for answers, but if Richard Feynman can make you smile and wonder and gape and mentally dance all at the same time, it's not impossible to do. Maybe you just need to be a Nobel-prize winning artistic and scientific genius with a diabolical sense of fun in order to do it. Not so suprising that we're not falling over them...
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leap into the Logical Land of the Quantum Universe,
Popular science writers and television presenters have long alluded to the behaviour of our universe at the quantum level. We hear that it is a strange and mysterious place in which everything becomes fuzzy; where light is both a wave and a particle; where single particles can be in more than place at once; and where 'cats hidden in boxes' are both dead and alive until we think to check on them.
Here is a book that challenges us to rationalise these counter-intuitive statements and to understand how the physics of quantum theory allows us to explain all of these phenomena and more. We are given a humble account of how physicists look at the world; the journey that science takes when 'things just don't add up;' and how the great minds of the 20th century worked to answer seemingly simple questions, ending up with laws of nature that profoundly shaped the way in which we live our lives today.
If you have a genuine thirst to understand not only how the physics of quantum theory works and what it means for our everyday experience, but also what it means to be a physicist, then I whole-heartedly recommend that you read this book and ponder over the conclusions that it leads us to draw.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Superb,
If you have always wanted to properly understand quantum mechanics, but the popular science books in which you have read about it so far have left you feeling intrigued but frustrated - because those books told you all this perplexing, common-sense-defying stuff and then didn't give you any way to get a handle on it - then get this book.
What is so great about this book is that, like the best popular science books, it doesn't demand any prerequisite knowledge, and yet the authors manage to tell you the simple rules of quantum mechanics in terms of diagrams and rules about how to add, multiply, and square lots of little clocks with different-lengthed hour hands (instead of having to confuse you with complex numbers). They absolutely steadfastly resist the temptation to introduce any of the usual quantum mechanical terminology and mumbo-jumbo and instead provide you with this really clear mental imagery of what is going on. And then just when you are thinking "Hold on. This is too weird. This can't really be what is going on. Either these physicists are all nuts, or I just can't understand what they are trying to get at", it's as if they have read your mind because they reassure you, saying things like "If you are wondering how on earth reality can really be like this, then you are in good company because nobody understands why reality is like this", and then add "but we are very sure of the correctness of the quantum mechanical rules we have told you about because every experiment ever carried out has confirmed them to tremendous accuracy".
Later they go on to add some more simple rules to the ones about adding clocks so that you can do simple particle physics. They tell you under what circumstances you have to apply a shrinking factor to the hands of the little clocks (in other words, they are telling how to use coupling constants - if you have heard of those). By the end of it, you will even understand how the Higgs bosons are supposed to give mass to the other particles - the particles that bump into them the most often are the most massive.
I never imagined the authors would have worked out a way to teach us so much in just a couple of days' reading! And even if you don't get it all the first time, it's only about 200 pages (excluding the appendix), and a lot of it is diagrams, so you can just read it again. I'm planning to anyway because it's such a marvel. I think this book is a real game changer.
(Also the book cover looks a lot nicer in actuality than it does in the picture. The title is embossed silver with holographic dots in it, and the rest of the cover has a sort of silky matt finish to it. It's very nice.)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit disappointing, not a patch on Feynman,
OK, so I've got a Physics degree lurking in my background from 20 odd years ago and I found this book quite hard work. In fact I think I was at Manchester about the time Brian Cox was there.
They decide to use the 'clock' approach to explaining Quantum mechanics which they've borrowed from Richard Feynman, unfortunately they're not as gifted as him.
I found this approach really confusing, I read the epilogue first about the black hole or Chandrasekhar mass limit. This was great, I always love astronomy and a practical application of the Physics was really interesting. However the bulk of the rest of the book is too abstract and impractical for my tastes. It gets better as it goes along. I found the rejection of Philosophy implied in the text quite irritating too, they use Popper's verification Principle at one point without crediting him, which they would never do with a scientist. My own opinion is that the best scientists are good Philosophers, and only mediocre scientists need to rubbish other fields.
So intermittently worth reading it improves as it goes along, Feynaman's QED - The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Penguin Press Science) is much better.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could do better!,
As someone who has no scientific or maths background, although I do have a degree in Philosophy, I found this book very difficult to enjoy, let alone understand!
I would guess that it was written primarily for physics or maths undergraduates, certainly if you ignore the maths as the authors often advise there is not enough written explanation to carry the "story" forward in any interesting way.
Surely with a subtitle "everything that can happen does happen" the story cannot fail to be interesting, but unfortunately I didnt grasp it, and I didnt find it well written, at least not for the layman. I would recommend the authors check out Simon Singh's Big Bang to see how complex science can be both informative and exciting to read.
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The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen by Jeff Forshaw (Paperback - 21 Jun 2012)