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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
In Search Of Schrodinger's Cat: Updated Edition
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on 25 August 2008
I obtained a good degree in physics twenty years ago, and I hoped to get a reasonable understanding of the main interpretations of quantum mechanics from this book. Some hope. I, especially, found the account of the Copenhagen interpretation disjointed and unclear. On the plus side, there are clear accounts of the "Many World's" interpretation, and the early history of Quantum Mechanics. But this doesn't gain it more than a star. The last few chapters certainly lose stars through trying to explain too many areas of quantum exotica in too few pages. These chapters lost me, but at least I had enough knowledge to know it was the book's fault and not mine! I pity the lay reader confronted with these chapters, and his (non-)explanation of the Copenhagen interpretation. If you're looking for a simple, clear, unbiased account of the interpretations of quantum mechanics, keep looking.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2010
'In Search Of Schrodinger's Cat' is a book that tackles the most important development in physics of the twentieth century: Quantum Physics. With such a fundamental leap, however, has come a topic that is incredibly hard for anyone less than an undergraduate to understand. In his book, John Gribbin succeeds to a large extent in conveying the ideas of this complex topic to the non-scientist. A word to the wise though, if you have never studied physics, you will struggle. In my estimation, one needs an education in Physics up to a year before attending university in order to understand all of the vocabulary used in this book. Even if this worries you, however, I suggest you read on.

The book is split into three main sections: The Quantum, Quantum Mechanics and ...And Beyond. The first section deals with discoveries and developments in physics before the quantum model became accepted in any form (such as the photoelectric effect) and serves as a useful source of background information and a light introduction to the book. The second section is the main meat of the book, covering the major developments in quantum physics once it had become accepted in some form. Finally, the last section covers the more interesting (and so more difficult to comprehend) aspects of the subject matter, such as parodoxes. This is by far the most entertaining section of the book and the ideas contained within it truly serve to redefine the way one looks at the world. the book finishes with an epilogue that focuses upon unexplained phenomena and the associated theories and hypotheses that have so far gone unaccepted by the scientific community. It is here that Gribbin's passion really becomes evident and you are encouraged to think for yourself about everything you have learned.

In the epilogue, however, is a problem. This book was written in the mid-1980s and as such some of the unexplained phenomena have since been explained and some fascinating theories go unmentioned through no fault of the book (string theory is a notable example). This, I feel, is the only point that the book can ever be criticised on, and that is an inevitable consequence of time. Regrettably, this does detract from the usefulness of the book as a text for someone (such as I)looking to study physics at university. This should not be overplayed, however, as this book provides an extremely solid foundation through which to continue further research into more recent developments into quantum theory.

And now to deal with those who did not have a recent education in physics or who dropped out too early. If you are prepared to put a little work in, by looking up unfamiliar terms and concepts on the internet or in another book, then you will gain even more than most people as far as knowledge goes, this is a classic case of putting a little work in to get a large reward, and every reader is most certainly awarded handsomely.

So, in concluding, whether you are an undergraduate student or a mechanic in the backstreets of Yorkshire, you will gain no end of enjoyment and knowledge from this well-written text on one of the most interesting aspects of physics. In writing this book, Gribbin has achieved what few of the science community can achieve - he has explained an incredibly complex piece to the layman successfully and has not lost any of the content along the way. If you're looking for a strong foundation in Physics, you've found it; and for only just over a fiver, who can complain?
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on 10 April 2015
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on 24 January 2016
It's not exactly a secret that quantum physics is complicated.

It's the most pioneering form of science, pulling us into a strange world of infinitesimally small particles and realities that are so out of odds with our own usual perceptions that even Einstein himself struggled with the implications. Most famously, it is a realm where, in the thought experiment of 'Schrodinger's Cat', a creature in a sealed system can be considered to be simultaneously alive and dead until we, the observers, actually open up the box and take a peek.

I'm no scientist. I did well in my GCSEs for chemistry,physics and biology, but I'm pretty convinced that this is testament for an odd talent in studying for exams and writing essays instead of any actual ability in scientific thinking. Besides, explaining even the basics of quantum theory here is rather beyond the scope of this humble little blog. So the real question is: does In Search of Schrodinger's Cat do a good job of explaining what quantum theory is to a layman?

In short: absolutely. I picked up In Search of Schrodinger's Cat on a whim when I spotted it in Oxfam, expecting that I would be hideously confused within mere pages and bored even sooner than that. Instead it hooked me and pulled me across the following pages and chapters with all the insatiable drive of a good novel. The book is crafted so that it takes the route of a history of quantum mechanics itself, starting with how we began to build up a picture of what the atom was. By starting at the beginning and walking historically through each question,debate and discovery as it happens, the book manages to keep things at layman's terms and gradually builds up the complexity of the science involved in gradual layers, each firmly rooted in the context of what created each idea. If you eventually find yourself confused at the complexity of the mathematical equations or experiments that Gribbin recounts he soon pulls you back into the comprehensible with his talented use of practical similes and his own genuine excitement for the subject. (For example, he likens the different energy states in different atoms to different types of crowd behaviour in rock concerts). For me, this allowed me to see the steady buildup of complexity and to marvel at the creative intelligence of the talented scientists involved while still feeling like I had a working knowledge of what quantum theory means and how it is used, even if the more delicate nuts and bolts of theoretical physics escaped me.

And marvel I did. Quantum theory gets a bad rep due in large to it being widely represented in popular culture but not easily understood - it looks as if it's scientists fudging the maths because it looks like bloody magic. If we take the Schrodinger's cat example, how can something be both alive and dead? Why should human observation fundamentally change the universe? How can one particle millions of miles away 'know' when another one changes? What the heck is going on?
What Gribbin does with great talent is to explain all of these questions while not dismissing why people find this area so challenging. By taking you through quantum theory from the very beginning step by step, and by giving time to explore many of the arguments against many quantum theory explanations too, you are finally prepared to open your mind to the stranger aspects of that science with an informed background.When you finally perceive the true strangeness of reality as it really is, it's quite the eye opener.

It is worth noting that In Search of Schrodinger's Cat has it's limitations, namely due to it's age. The version I picked up had done the rounds: it was a 1998 version of the original 1984 print (and had seemingly done a repeated stint in the University of Queensland bookshop before finding its way to Oxfam). As a result, you have to acknowledge that in the last 18-32 years the field of quantum theory has moved far enough as to make some aspects of the science out of date. However the way that Gribbins hangs his book on a historical timeline, it still has great value. Nothing is missing and nothing is anachronistic, it's just that his timeline finishes with a lot of exciting questions in the 1980s, waiting for more answers. It would take a hard-hearted person not to be inspired by the closing pages.

In conclusion, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat is an excellent book, and a must for anyone who is curious about science and would like an introduction into the weird world of quantum physics. What's more, it's even still in print with an updated version. Check it out ;)

[Full review can be found at http://preludesblogofwords.blogspot.co.uk/]
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on 6 June 2001
John Gribbin has created an excellent book for anyone vaguely curious about Physics and moreover Quantum Mechanics.
It accurately and succinctly introduces the reader to the alien world of the very small, the world of particle physics and it's associated theory area, Quantum Mechanics. The book details the history of this study area in enough detail to satisfy those with some prior knowledge and yet will also keep the reader that is perhaps new to the Scientific arena interested throughout. Although clearly not a fictional work the "plot" follows the illuminate of Mathematics and Physics who, in the early part of this century, laid the ground work for a hugely productive area of science. It neatly explores sub-plots that highlight supporting narrative about the key figures, the mathematics they used, the air of discovery, political diversions and war across the Lab Benches as classical physics, led by Einstein, sort to push the Quantum lobby to the very limit of absolute understanding.
There are equations and experimental examples but not enough to disrupt a thoroughly good read for people without prior mathematical experience. Perhaps not quite enough for those that crave the quadratic or the matrix mechanic?
A great way to open a fascinating new way of viewing the universe(s)..!
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on 21 January 2016
In Search of Schrodinger's Cat walks the reader through the development of quantum mechanics starting in the early 1900's and up to today. The book starts with the historical attempts to describe light as either a particle or a wave and eventually leading to Bohr’s basic atom model for hydrogen.

The birth of quantum mechanics is eventually found with the famous double-slit experiment in which both particle and wave behaviour are found in light. At this point, various physicists begin attempting to create frameworks to describe quantum mechanics up until the 1980s.

The book introduces many of the concepts of quantum mechanics in a logical order ignoring much but not all of the mathematics behind the theories. Though the book claims to bring every reader to a clear understanding of quantum mechanics, a background in physics and maths is recommendable (around A level skill).

The book gives an idea of what quantum mechanics is about, which can be built upon further. Much of the concepts are well described, but some ideas are only lightly touched and somewhat unclear. Overall a nice introduction to quantum mechanics.

For those interested in further developing their knowledge, Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum is a great place to proceed, where the reader can approach the field mathematically and actually apply the ideas.
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on 21 June 2005
This book is aimed squarely at those who did not do science A-level, and as such I found it a fantastic overview. Lively, funny and jaw-dropping. What more could you want?
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on 8 May 2001
I am one of those few people who have actualy read their copy of the Brief History of Time and this book is just as good if not better. The book is not hard to read as some may think and gives insight and wonder into the World of Quantum Mechanics. In fact I think I learnt more Quantum Mechanics from this book than I did from my entire Physics degree.
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on 4 August 2012
Having previously read some longer popular science books, they all very much dwelled on points for much longer than is necessary. John Gribbin does not fall into the trap at all and writes about everything at a length that keeps it interesting and to the point. I really like this.

The content of the book itself is very good. It explores QM, its history and also how it works, and then goes on to explain the weirdness of the quantum world, its experimental history and prospects. Finally, the future of physics and the directions in which can be taken over the coming years ('many worlds' pun, possibly? no? okay.) including supersymmetry are explored. So for a short book as it is, many aspects of QM are tackled and with good style and little spin (until towards the end), no pun intended there.

I didn't read the 'updated edition' so I cannot vouch for that, but I actually bought the book back in 2009 so I had a fairly older edition which is constantly referencing how it was written in about 1983. A lot of the content of the book has changed now as the LHC is up and running (and the Higgs has supposedly been found but that may be too recent), many more particles have been found (tau neutrino for example) and string theory/M theory are full blown theories now. So I hope that in the updated edition, this slight outdated-ness had been changed. (if someone could comment whether this has occurred or now, that would be awesome).

So yeah. Great book regardless of science ability. Mathematical ability is irrelevant as there is no mathematics in it. Recommended to anyone studying A level physics who wants further reading for personal statements and such!
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on 1 August 2016
This is a fantastic book if one is just attempting, for the first time, to come to terms with the puzzling yet fascinating world of quantum theory. What makes it different from most other books I read on the subject is the way in which Gribbin tries to explain one phenomenon that, quite often, can be felt as unexplainable. At times, it can still feel overwhelming to those averse to maths, but you can jump over those moments as they will not necessarily be essential for what the book does: if you're not very familiar with the subject, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat will launch you into a magical tale that is a part of our reality as much as anything else, even if you don't actually experience it on a daily basis. And by doing that, it might ultimately also reshape your own view of the world and yourself. Highly recommended.
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