Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality Hardcover – 1 Jun 2010
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Kumar brings lucidity and a sense of drama to what is usually considered by lay readers as an esoteric, bubble-chambered subject. He does this without sacrificing the 'science of it' at the altar of readability. The triumphs and the tribulations, the politics and the physics, the humanity and the genius of the protagonists all collide to produce the sort of energy that we usually expect in a Le Carre thriller.
'I found Quantum a fascinating, riveting read. I have not read individual biographies of the scientists concerned beyond what can be found in customary introductory sections of popular science books, and I normally dislike the biographical approach to popular science, but in this case the interweaving of the stories of the scientists and of the science worked brilliantly. Quantum shows not only the body of science, but also its human face. I had a real feeling of observing one of the greatest revolutions of human understanding of the world as it happened; from the personalities of people involved to the administrative details of their employment to the grand sweeps of history that engulfed them. Particularly compelling was how essential for the development of ideas was the communication, co-operation and competition between the scientists: how ideas were bounced between them, reused and refashioned, and how astonishingly creative this cohort of incredibly young men became in the process. ... Quantum is a fascinating, powerful and brilliantly written book that shows one of the most important theories of modern science in the making and discusses its implications for our ideas about the fundamental nature of the world and human knowledge, while presenting intimate and insightful portraits of people who made the science. Highly recommended.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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Quantum is appropriately sub-titled, Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality. The long theoretical duel between these two giants of modern physics is a recurring theme of the book, but the story starts before them with the build-up to the discovery of Planck's constant at the turn of the century, and continues beyond their deaths (in 1955 and 1962 respectively) to take in Bell's Theorem and Everett's "many worlds" interpretation. Along the way we meet other great physicists such as Rutherford, Heisenberg, Pauli, Schrödinger, Dirac and Bohm.
One might suspect that a book of such scope would be in danger of being overcrowded with theories and theorists, yet Kumar rises to the challenge, displaying a novelist's sense of pacing allied with an impressive scientific clarity and succinctness. Clearly he has taken to heart the famous injunction attributed to Einstein to "make it as simple as possible, but no simpler!" He also strikes a judicious balance between scientific explanation and human context. This provided for me a welcome alternation between the physics and the lives of the physicists, with each stimulating an interest in the other.
What is so powerful and inspiring about this book is the way it conveys the passion for truth of those great pioneers. No doubt ego played its part as well, they would hardly have been human otherwise, but it is always secondary to the great quest to fathom the nature of sub-atomic reality. Characteristic of this passion is the anecdote of Bohr and Einstein on their first meeting in Copenhagen, straightaway so engrossed in debate that they repeatedly miss their bus-stop. Kumar evidently resonates to this passion, and conveys it vividly in his narrative. Here is an extract from his account of Bohr's first meeting with Schrödinger, one of Einstein's key allies in the great debate:
"After the exchange of pleasantries, battle began almost at once, and according to Heisenberg, `continued daily from early morning until late at night'... During one discussion Schrödinger called `the whole idea of quantum jumps a sheer fantasy'. `But it does not prove there are no quantum jumps,' Bohr countered. All it proved, he continued, was that `we cannot imagine them'. Emotions soon ran high... Schrödinger finally snapped. `If all this damned quantum jumping were really here to stay, I should be sorry I ever got involved with quantum theory.' `But the rest of us are extremely grateful that you did,' Bohr replied, `your wave mechanics has contributed so much to mathematical clarity and simplicity that it represents a gigantic advance over all previous forms of quantum mechanics.'
"After a few days of these relentless discussions, Schrödinger fell ill and took to his bed. Even as his wife did all she could to nurse their house-guest, Bohr sat on the edge of the bed and continued the argument. `But surely Schrödinger, you must see...' He did see, but only through the glasses he had long worn, and he was not about to change them for ones prescribed by Bohr."
This book is a brilliant and compelling account of the genesis of quantum physics, but it is more than that. In the midst of today's pervasive cynicism and disorientation, it is an inspiring reminder of what the human spirit is capable of when it devotes itself passionately to the highest aim, that of understanding the truth of our reality.
There is a fairly good balance between biography and science and the first half of the book, at least, would be readily accessible to somebody without much scientific or mathematical background.
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It's also the engaging book I've ever read, it sucks you in and keeps you awake as you get...Read more