Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality Paperback – 2 Apr 2009
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SHORTLISTED FOR THE BBC SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION 2009 -- Icon Books
'This is about gob-smacking science at the far end of reason… Take it nice and easy and savour the experience of your mind being blown without recourse to hallucinogens' (Nicholas Lezard, Guardian)
'A super-collider of a book'. (Independent)
‘…the most important popular science book of the year.’ (Bookseller)
‘Kumar is an accomplished writer… In Quantum he tells the story of the conflict between two of the most powerful intellects of their day: the hugely famous Einstein and the less well-known but just as brilliant Dane, Niels Bohr.’ (Financial Times)
An exhaustive and brilliant account of decades of emotionally charged discovery and argument, friendship and rivalry spanning two world wars.’ (Steven Poole, Guardian)
‘…it does provide a fresh perspective on the debate.’ (Press Association)
‘A dramatic, powerful and superbly written history.’ (Publishing News)
‘This is not an easy read. There are many concepts that… I could not come to terms with, but this is the biography on an idea and as such read much like a thriller.’ (Ham & High)
‘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.’ (Bookbag)
‘‘Quantum’ is an interesting and informative read.’ (Physics World)
‘That science is a many-splendored, sexy thing is the radiating message that comes out of this fabulous book…a pulsating narrative’. (Hindustan Times)
‘Probably the most lucid and detailed intellectual history ever written of a body of theory that makes other scientific revolutions look limp-wristed by comparison’. (Independent)
‘One of the best guides yet to the central conundrums of modern physics.’ (John Banville, The Age, Australia)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
In our everyday lives, things happen for a reason - you place a fork on a table and unless someone comes along and moves it, you can be certain that it will be still there the next day. Not so in the atomic world of quantum mechanics, an electron might be here... or it might be there ... or over there. In fact it could be anywhere in the universe at any given time. Quantum mechanics predicts this behaviour in the form of a probability wave function. And it works.
But is this the true nature of reality?
This is the theme of the book. We have two great scientists - Einstein and Niels Bohr who have a fundamental difference of opinion about the nature of reality.
From Einstein's' point of view, an electron has a real set of parameters such as location, velocity, spin and so on that is independent of an observer. He admits that quantum mechanics does a good job in predicting atomic behaviour but he is convinced the theory is not complete.
On the other hand, there is Niels Bohr's vision that an electron (or any microscopic entity) has no reality until an observer chooses to measure one of its parameters. He considers quantum mechanics to be complete with no further need for revision or modification.
This argument goes on for decades. The book takes the reader through the panoply of scientists who helped put quantum theory together from its beginnings around 1900 to today. Scientists such as Max Planck, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Oppenheimer, Von Neumann and many, many others are included.
The appeal of this book is that it brings humanity to the story of quantum mechanics.Read more ›
The book does a very good job of establishing how classical physics of the 19th Century was seen as completed and except for a few minor details that needed tidying up, the consensus was that nothing really fundamental at a theoretical level was left to discover.
Kumar explores how this certainty that physics was done and dusted came to unravel and how an idea as counter intuitive as the quantum came to be accepted by most physicists.
This manner of exploring quantum theory through its historical development allows anyone with a basic grasp of science to understand why it is so revolutionary in its implications. At the centre of this story is the struggle between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr about what our attitude to the reality should be.
Mixing historical narrative with the scientific ideas that were in contention brings quantum theory to a much broader audience of readers than is generally possible with this sort of material.
Part social history, part popular science as well as raising questions of a philosophical nature - this makes a cracking read and comes highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Really good book. Gives a great insight into quantum physics and how it links together. No need for advanced maths or physics to be able to read.Published 1 day ago by Hugo Karas
I found this hard to follow. It's a shame that the concepts at the heart of the debate aren't broken down in a way that is readily comprehensible to the lay reader; Kumar often... Read morePublished 7 days ago by Joe Markham
‘If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics’, is a quote commonly attributed to the American Nobel prize winning physicist, Richard... Read morePublished 21 days ago by still searching
excellent delivery. Book brought together all I have been reading into a cogent account. top marksPublished 1 month ago by Irene
Now and then I enjoy a topic that is beyond my comprehension. Maths is one such and there is a good deal of it here. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Brian Pickering
An excellent book on the history and development of quantum theory. Very well written, it has a very lively vibe to it. Read morePublished 4 months ago by nick
An excellent read. Comprehensive history of the development of Quantum Theory and Quantum Mechanics. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
Really interesting read, I enjoyed reading about the development of Quantum theory, the people, their personalities, the friendships and the clashes.Published 4 months ago by Anthony Moore