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on 9 June 2009
The development of quantum physics through the 20th century is one of the great adventures of science, and here at last is a book aimed at the layperson which clearly explains its key concepts, while situating the scientific development in its broader setting. The result is a challenging and enthralling read.

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.
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on 27 October 2015
Good CD album due to expectation and ptoper delivery (dAb) +>
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on 3 September 2014
Nice book to read..I find it easy to understand..
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on 21 August 2011
Quantum mechanics is one of the most successful scientific theories ever made. But it is utterly non-intuitive for both the scientist and non-scientist alike.

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. It shows the egos, the fears, the ambition of these extraordinary people as the story unfolds over decades.

If you want a pure explanation of quantum mechanics then you should look to a dry text book. But if you want the human context in which quantum mechanics evolved then I recommend you read this book.
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on 16 July 2017
An excellent book that carefully traces the history of Quantum mechanics from it's beginnings. Manjit Kumar has a talent for being able to explain not just the events of the time but also the physics in a very straightforward way, while giving readers more detail than I expected to find. I found it fascinating and his style is very easy to read, and very difficult to put down. Only snag I have about the book itself (paperback version 2014 by Icon Books) is that the contents page has a list of illustrations for a plate section that isn't actually included in the book. Such a shame because the titles on the list include the classic fifth Solvay Conference 1927 picture, and many other interesting pictures of the main players from that time (and also Niels Bohr's last blackboard diagram...which I am now really curious to see). Still, this apparent discrepancy is not enough to lose any stars in my review because the book itself is so good. Highly recommend, but look around for the hardback version which may have the illustrations?
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on 30 September 2014
A readable history of modern physics from about 1900 to 1950 (with a quick skim over some more recent developments). As is typical for a popular science book, it almost entirely skips over the maths. This causes some problems in dealing with quantum mechanics since it is, after all, a mathematical formalism. But Kumar does a good job of making the debates over the philosophy and interpretation of the theory lively and engaging.

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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on 17 October 2008
This is fascinating book written as a narrative history of those scientists who contributed to the development of Quantum Theory - one of the most important challenges to orthodox thinking in the whole history of ideas.

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.

Jenny Gardener
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on 22 June 2009
I have always been fascinated by how 'it' all fits together, but struggle to find the time to concentrate on dry theoretical texts. It was therefore with great delight that I found myself engrossed in Quantum on the tube, the bus and even occasionally the walk in between. Manjit Kumar's writing eases you effortlessly into the some of the most complex ideas in physics by juxtaposing the personal stories of the authors playing out through the 20th century with the theories themselves. Sufficient detail is provided to challenge all but the most experienced reader, and a comprehensive references list encourages further exploration for those who need to dig even deeper. While having to admit to only momentary glimpses of both the elusive beauty, and the black hole enveloped by quantum theory, I felt strangely comforted that even Einstein struggled to fully embrace such a world.

Highly recommended
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on 22 September 2011
I am a Physics teacher and recommend this book to all my A-level students. Not only is it an enjoyable read, it serves to greatly enhance their knowledge and appreciation of material we cover in class and provides them with an insight into "how science works". Unlike other books on Quantum Mechanics, this one reads like a story, making it easy for the lay person to read. It provides an in-depth account of the development of physics that completed transformed our understanding of the nature of reality, as well as a fascinating insight into the scientists at the heart of these developments. It is this compelling approach of combining biographical details of great scientists and the drama of their lives, with straightforward explanations of the science that make the book so readable. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in developing their understanding of quantum mechanics and particularly to those with an interest in the history of science.
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on 5 November 2017
Quite the best book to explain the origins and issues over the interpretation of quantum mechanics as it evolved in the words, personalities and doings of the participants. Scholarly in its research, clear, and comprehensible to the layman. And with well chosen photos.
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