3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Any attempt to explain Quantum Theory is likely to be tough going unless it's so facile as to be pretty well worthless, and parts of this book will be very tough going for anyone with little background in physics or maths. Cox and Forshaw treat the subject and their readers with respect in that they do not fudge issues nor duck important ideas and problems, which means that some pretty serious brainwork is required to follow what they are saying.
I thought some parts of this book were excellent and other parts not so good. The explanations of such things as the Quantum Measurement Problem and the Epilogue on the Death of Stars, for example, are in the excellent category. Much less good was the explanation of phase and quantum interference by constant reference to "clocks," which I found clumsy and unhelpful (although others may disagree). This is quite a serious flaw, as it permeates much of the book. However, the style is readable and the treatment of the subject quite rigorous for a "popular" book, so overall I found it an incisive account of the state of Quantum Theory in late 2011
There is a reasonable amount of mathematics in the book, although most is explained in a way that should be comprehensible to those with only a little background in the subject. It is badly hindered, though, by a number of unnecessary errors which really should have been eliminated in proof reading. For example, a footnote on p67 asserts that... "a microgramme...is a millionth of a kilogramme." More seriously, in the otherwise excellent Epilogue in which the authors take us gently and expertly through a rather complex mathematical process, several errors in the text will make the argument almost impossible for anyone with little maths to follow. Examples include "rho" rather than "rho-bar" on p234, and "r-squared" rather than plain "r" on p235 and there are others. It just isn't good enough in a book like this, and I hope this will be corrected in future editions.
Flaws aside, I would recommend this to anyone who isn't afraid to get stuck into a bit of roughly A Level standard algebra and reasoning and who wants a proper account of where quantum physics stands and what it may mean. It's a generally readable and enjoyable intellectual adventure.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent and truly exciting book, but must also be treated with caution. The caution comes from what you are expecting of it. If you are looking for a light-reading popular science book this is probably not for you. The ideal audience for this book would probably be someone who has already read a couple of high level popular science books about particle physics and quantum mechanics and is looking for a bit more meat. It would probably be lapped up by an A-level science student or by an undergraduate wanting to get some background before diving into the real thing of a quantum mechanics module.
The authors claim that no mathematical knowledge is required to follow their text, but that is probably a bit of a stretch. My educational background is in doing very hard sums (albeit too many years ago), and I found myself having to re-read a number of sections.
However, it is the topic itself that is challenging, rather than the authors' style. It has been said that if you think fully understand quantum physics, you probably don't. So, Cox and Forshaw are to be commended for a very open, approachable and readable style with which they successfully address the formidable challenge of deriving some of the key principles of quantum mechanics.
That is the exciting element of the book to which I referred earlier, the fact that, for example the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle from first principles using a methodology accessible to the lay person (with a bit of a mental work out en-route). Using a method based using clocks to describe some of the fundamental properties of nature (a method first developed by particle physicist Richard Feynman), as well as exploring Heisenberg, Cox and Forshaw also take a tour around the quantum mechanical basis for great swathes of science, chemistry, atomic physics, modern electronics, and cosmology.
If you are looking for a book with lots of glossy pictures of astronomical phenomena and of Dr Cox in various exotic locations, you will be disappointed. If you want an easily written and welcoming introduction to one of the best equipped mental gymnasia in town, this is well, well worth a go.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The first thing to say about this book is that the authors make no assumptions, so that it's one for those coming to quantum physics for perhaps the first time, and it's clear that the authors have considered A-level students as a potential readership. By the end of the second para. on page 2, the authors have said enough to reassure the faint-hearted on the one hand, and on the other manage to evoke a sense of excitement in anticipation of what is about to unfold. This is neither Stephen Hawking's "Brief History of Time", nor yet Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe", and good as those books are, I never managed to finish the latter, having fallen off the horse amid the confusions of calabi yau manifolds and related arcana.
The first chapter is a whistle-stop tour of the great and the good, from Newton to Clerk-Maxwell and on to Chandrasekhar via Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein and co. with brief nods to their various contributions. Chapter 2 introduces the reader to the concept of electrons as quantum particles and examines their behaviour. The authors have been meticulous in exploring and laying bare the nature of the electron and introduce the concept of probability, as opposed to determinacy in accounting for this behaviour and the contributions of Schrodinger and Bohr are examined. This incremental approach continues on into Chapter 3, where the reader is introduced to Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle, plus a fairly detailed exegesis of Planck's Constant and the authors show how the Uncertainty Principle can be derived via Planck's Constant.
Chapter 4 introduces the nature of waves, especially standing waves, and the examples given are both familiar and easily understood. The wave-particle concept is covered in some detail and the authors introduce the de Broglie Equation and explain why it was so important in developing a comprehensive understanding of waves and their properties. What is somewhat less clear is the concept of a string of clocks (the clock tool is introduced in Ch.3), which are (I think), collapsed into a larger, single clock which covers the same area as the string of smaller and more numerous clocks.This is the way I have chosen to understand references to "the size of the clock(s)", which is not explicitly explained. A diagram showing the transition from the string of clocks, to an inflated single clock covering the same area of the waveform, (and the probable area where the electron is located), would have dispensed with this ambiguity. With the energy relationships of the proton and the electron clearly delineated, the basis of atomic spectra is thereby explained.
The discussion then moves to the question of possible energy states or levels within the atom for the electron, and how these values provide insights into the structure of the periodic table and of the elements beyond hydrogen and related matters, e.g. why the inert gases ARE inert. Pauli's Exclusion Principle and the characteristics of spin are explored next and later the authors start to define particles as either fermions or bosons.
The authors then discuss the idea that all atoms everywhere, are all connected, each to the other, an idea first mooted in the form of the Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Effect, which may be summarised as: "Once two or more particles come into contact with each other, they will continue to influence each other, regardless of elapsed time or distance". If you don't think this is spooky (Einstein did), you've either not been paying attention or else you've failed to understand the authors explanation.
By the end of Chapter 8, the authors have explored the behaviour of electron in conductors, insulators and semi-conductors and the role of electrons in defining their properties. In the following chapter the application of these materials in transistors and microchips is described.
The later chapters have been covered by other reviewers, so all that remains is to summarise the methods which the authors consistently employ. Each chapter neatly segues into the next and what follows is built on what has gone before. None of the maths is especially challenging, and if maths is not your thing, it is possible to imagine/conceptualise what is being explained. The criticisms levelled in some other reviews, appear to take no account of the fact that quantum physics challenged and deeply troubled some of the finest minds in physics for much of the 20th century. The authors meticulous and painstaking approach to explaining everything, means that most intelligent people over the age of say 16, are now able to understand the subject, but it does call for periods of concentration and persistence on the part of the reader. In view of the foregoing, this book is an astonishing educational achievement. Anything misrepresented in this review is a reflection of my own struggle to deal with some concepts.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I've got A Level physics, although it's a long time since I sat the exam. I've got two maths A levels too, so I thought I'd give The Quantum Universe a go.
Dammit! It's written clearly, without using complex jargon. Every point is explained simply with diagrams to illustrate it. I can read each sentence and think, "Yes, I know what that means." But I still don't understand it. Perhaps I'm giving myself too hard a time. Pop Robson, my school physics teacher, once laughed until he cried (in a nice way) in a lesson about the planets orbiting the sun. I told him that I got what happened but I didn't understand why. Apparently no one understood that, so this was normal.
But I still don't really get the winding clocks metaphor in The Quantum Universe, and that makes the rest of it a bit tricky to understand.
I've given it five stars because it's a great book, and I've really enjoyed reading it, even though my conclusion is just that I'm not quite smart enough to get what on earth is going on in it.
I think it's probably the only book about quantum theory that would make me want to keep reading though, because it almost convinces me, for minutes at a time, that I really know what's going on inside an atom.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book after reading "Why does E=mc2?" by the same authors, which I enjoyed very much. Not having a background in maths and/or physics, I found this second book very difficult. I'm not sure whether this is due to the subject matter or the approach taken to it. The authors seem to assume quite a knowledge of physics in their audience (which I do not have), introducing and using terms way before they are ever defined - if they ever are. Equations are introduced, explained and then changed with no explanation, for example, the rewinding of clocks equation is proposed including time and mass. When the equation is used, time and mass are no longer a part of it. I understand that quantum physics is weird, but surely not that weird. The authors spend so much time on proofs and on repeating the clock analogy, that I do not really know what their aim was in writing the book.
I have since read "The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics" by James Kakalios, which was set much more at my level, explaining such things as Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle" and Pauli's "Exclusion Principle" without the maths, and was, for me, a much more enjoyable read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This book fills a largely empty gap between "pop science" (where books often try hard to avoid using a single equation) and textbooks. It's a brave attempt - after all, physics IS maths, and dodging the equations means dodging the best explanations.
The result is a readable and well-rounded introduction to the concepts of quantum mechanics in sequence, using the same analogies physics students are taught - quantum clocks, sine waves - and with the maths explained along the way, derived - well, not from first principles, but from more familiar places like Maxwell and Newton's equations that most readers will have encountered before.
That said, it's not that well written - a bit florid in places. In addition, there are formatting issues with my Kindle edition that lead to uneven line breaks and spotty justification. So while the book has great value, I didn't enjoy reading it. It did solidify my understanding of the subject though (as an enthusiastic amateur) so deserves four stars.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Professor Brian Cox is one of our most brilliant communicators and has taken to the medium of TV like a duck to water, perhaps because as an ex-pro musician he has experience of entertaining ordinary people from a stage. Within the pages of a book his TV character doesn't come over quite so strongly, and it's difficult to unravel which parts of this introductory textbook he's actually written. The authorial voice is probably a combination of his own and that of his his Manchester University colleague Professor Jeff Forshaw, but I wouldn't like to hazard a guess as to who wrote what.
In the end, that isn't important, unless you're a fully paid-up subscriber to the cult of personality. This is not a coffee table book selling the wow-factor elements of quantum physics to the scientifically illiterate. It's not a TV spinoff like "Wonders of The Universe". Like the duo's previous "Why does E=mc2", it's a serious textbook, probably aimed at those with a good grounding in science and maths - a bright A-level student, perhaps, or a first-year undergraduate. I am not a physicist. I have a couple of science O-levels gained around the time that teachers were still the tweed-jacketed, chalk-dust covered dinosaurs that Brian & Jeff like to evoke whenever things get a little too technical for the layman. I am eager to learn, though, and I like to think my brain can still keep Alzheimer's at bay by tackling new ideas and absorbing new information. I found that this book really does repay a little effort - re-reading difficult passages, pausing often to reflect and absorb new information, looking up words you don't know, that sort of thing. Maybe this isn't a popular approach in these days of instant gratification and over-simplification, I don't know - that could be the source of some of the irritation I see in other reviews of the book. Despite my rather basic maths, I found I could usually skate around the most difficult conceptual stuff - the equations, the convoluted passages of logic - and still grasp the gist of what was being explained. I might not have followed every step along the way, but I got there in the end, sort of. And certainly finished the book knowing a good deal more about the subject than I did when I began.
I'd previously read Jim Al-Khalili's "Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed" which covers much of the same ground, though in a glossier, heavily-illustrated coffee-table book-ish style. Cox and Forshaw's book is both less accessible and more up-to-date in terms of the latest advances in the field, and I felt that the two books complemented each other well in both style and content. I feel my mind has been enriched by reading this stuff, even if I haven't understood every word. And that's the point....isn't it?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First of all, this isn't a casual book for the complete newcomer to quantum theory. It sits somewhere between the layman's guide and a treatise for the already initiated. After a deceptively comfortable easing in, the book gets heavy on concepts, models, maths and lots else which will slow down the non-expert reader who isn't well-versed in the language of science. That said, you can't begin to describe these things without the 'hard stuff', and the authors are pretty kind on the lay reader in this respect, with just enough explanation given to follow along, as long as you're paying attention...
That aside, if you do stick with it, it's a mind-boggling and fascinating insight into some of the strangest science they never taught you at school. What I loved was the way reality is turned around - it's not quantum physics which is weird, but rather the ill-fitting everyday physics model which we're used to (the one they DID teach you in school).
As ever with Brian Cox's material, you get a sense of the excited, eager and passionate über-geek, which makes reading it a pleasure even when the ideas make your head spin. I can't claim to have grasped the details of every argument in every chapter, but nonetheless I feel like I got a lot from it, thanks to the sheer enthusiasm that seeps through the text.
All quite addictive, makes-you-think stuff. Stick with it - it will fuel myriad thoughts / late-night discussions / pondering daydreams if you give it a chance.