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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brief but painless introduction
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...
Published on 28 Dec 2008 by Gavin Simpson

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pass Me The Aspirin Please
Marcus Chown claims "Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You". What he doesn't say is that it can leave you with a very bad headache. A friend of mine, who took her degree in physics, said it was hard - and she actually understood the subject!! For those of us without scientific training and reliant upon our native intelligence and education it's far more difficult. Chown...
Published on 14 April 2010 by Neutral


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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brief but painless introduction, 28 Dec 2008
By 
Gavin Simpson (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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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. But this is not a problem; what is being discussed is just as crazy as anything the author dreams up to help illustrate the science!

For me, the individual sections were a little brief, but for the reader that is coming fresh to the topic I doubt this will be the case. Instead, "Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You" is a thoroughly interesting introduction to this fascinating area of science.

And, true to his word, the book didn't hurt one little bit.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent non-specialist account, 6 Oct 2008
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 10 REVIEWER)    (No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)   
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 "lisa_joli" (Cheshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You (Hardcover)
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
By 
J. Bolch (Kent, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You (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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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, 7 Nov 2007
By 
Hambletta-Maud "hamble" (somewhere in west europe) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You (Hardcover)
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
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Feynman needs to be re-quoted to "If you think you understand Quantum, you've read this book.", 13 Mar 2009
By 
Crispian Jago (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You (Hardcover)
I don't pretend to really understand quantum mechanics, but the reason I find it such a fascinating subject is its so completely counter intuitive to the non-quantum world in which my brain evolved and attempts to make sense of the Universe. I was listening to the news this morning about the latest initiatives and campaigns to make science more popular and seem less elitist. This is exactly the sort of book that scientists need to be writing in order to purse this goal.

Chown, splits the book into two sections, the world of the very small, and the world of the very large, and shows how the fundamental laws that govern these two worlds greatly differ from each other, and the small slice of space and time that we are able to perceive.

The world of the very small is introduced by a few interesting facts to fully illustrate how quantum mechanics farts in the face of our blinkered reality. The logic and consequences of these facts is elucidated, not by mathematics and complex equations, but by comparisons, anecdotes and thought experiments that even I could get my head around. For example, if there were some way to squeeze all of the empty space out of the atoms in our bodies, humanity would fit into the space occupied by a sugar cube. Or an atom can be in two different places at once, the equivalent of you being in New York and London at the same time. That makes Phil Collins' dual appearance at Live Aid in Wembley and Philadelphia seem positively pedestrian. I especially liked the chapter that explained how atoms influence each other instantly even when they are vast distances apart without being subject to all those tedious light speed limits enforced by Einstein's cosmic police. This is exemplified by two spinning coins, one in a sealed box on the ocean floor, and one on a cold moon in a distant galaxy. The instant the coin on earth comes down as heads, its cousin a billion light years from earth instantly comes down as tails. The consequences of mastering for example, quantum computing, as we have mastered the electron opens up feasible possibilities that make many fantasy writers seem to be unimaginative dullards.

The second half of the book takes a look at the bigger things and therefore concentrates mainly on Einstein and how he discovered the interchangeably of mass and energy as nicely summarised by: E=mc2. Again Chown draws on comparison and anecdotes to illustrate his points, for example the weight of the sun is reducing every second by about the weight of a super tanker. Therefore showing that "photon's have mass", and inducing Woody Allen to quip, "I didn't even know they were Catholic". Chown concludes with the ultimate Rabbit out of Hat trick or how we learned that the universe has not existed forever but was born from in a titanic explosion 13.7 billion years ago

I've always wondered why many people seem far more concerned with the amount of cellulite on a particular celebrities fat arse than with the fascination of our universe and indeed our existence as made sense of by the scientific method. Chown has insured that the excuse of elitism and lack of understandability can no longer be used as a valid defence by such bum watchers.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easier than Hawking !, 26 Nov 2007
This review is from: Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You (Hardcover)
An excellent explanation of very tricky concepts. I have read many books on these subjects, but after reading this one I felt I understood it all at last.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read, 14 Feb 2011
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I just couldn't put this book down and once finished I have bought the authors other books which are I have to say just as good. This book explains in layman's terms what the current thinking is in relation to world around us and out there and the very extremes of physics. The theories are explained in an understandable way and leave you really thinking deeply about what has been said. What to us ordinary mortals may sound so far fetched suddenly feel very possible.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pass Me The Aspirin Please, 14 April 2010
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Marcus Chown claims "Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You". What he doesn't say is that it can leave you with a very bad headache. A friend of mine, who took her degree in physics, said it was hard - and she actually understood the subject!! For those of us without scientific training and reliant upon our native intelligence and education it's far more difficult. Chown recognises this by stating at the outset that "as a science writer I am constantly amazed by how much stranger science is than science fiction, how much more incredible the Universe is than anything we could possibly have invented." Certainly some of his assertions seem incredible although the vastness of the Universe does make the fitting of the entire human race into the volume of a sugar cube credible. What Chown tries to do is to explain the complexities of science to the general reader. I'm not convinced he's succeeded, partly because the complexities of the subject are in abstract form whereas the general reader is looking for literary explanations which are significantly different in nature.

Chown splits the subject into two, small things and big things. The small things are atoms, so small that it would take 10 million of them laid end to end to span the width of a full stop. In addition, they are mainly empty space. Chown traces the history of atomic discovery, including the suggestion by Rutherford and Soddy that radioactive atoms were heavy atoms seething with energy. Rutherford's discovery of the atomic nucleus created a problem because "it was totally incompatible with all known physics". This discovery opened the way for quantum theory to explain the nature of the physical world. Apparently it took some while for scientists to accept the existence of photons so it was no surprise that Chown failed to explain them to a non-scientist. After several readings I understand what he is trying to say but his explanation reminds me of a police officer proceeding in a westerly direction. Probably accurate but no use unless "westerly" can be established in the mind of the hearer from knowledge of the road to which the officer was referring. It was downhill all the way thereafter.

Chown then discusses big things including how Einstein's special theory of relativity changed our perceptions of space and time. Einstein, of course, was not infallible. He did not believe that time travel was possible or black holes existed, both ideas which modern physicists believe can be achieved. He remained a critic of quantum theory which he considered provided an incomplete picture of nature. However, Chown suggests that Einstein's theory of general relativity is unable to provide an explanation of how the universe came into being. He argues that what is needed in a quantum theory of gravity. In the final analysis he asks but cannot answer the big questions. "Where did the Universe come from? Why did it burst into being in a Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago? What, if anything, existed before the Big Bang?"

There's a thirty-eight page glossary at the back of a book in which the main text is contained in 158 pages. My maths isn't brilliant but that seems closer to 25% than to 20%. Although it does provide assistance in understanding the text, it is indicative of the weakness of the main text which is where the explanation of each point should have been made. Chown may be a writer of popular-science but this book falls some way below what I would expect from an easy to read book. It gets better on each re-read so some of that could simply be down to my own unfamiliarity with the subject rather than Chown's explanation. Then again I would expect Chown to get through to the general reader lacking in knowledge of the subject first time as was the case with Hawking.

I was given the book by someone with more knowledge of science than myself who found Chown's presentation fell between the explanatory on one hand and the illustrative on the other. I've given three stars largely because the main points became clearer on later re-reads and with knowledge gleaned from the glossary. However, don't let my view deter anyone from buying the book. Whatever faults I found may lie with me rather than Chown. Then again maybe it lies with both of us. Buy a copy and make up your own mind.
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