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on 9 June 2017
I would recommend this book to anyone seeking an introduction to quantum mechanics. I am well read in this area, yet I have learnt some new things, like how the Fourier transform on the wave function gives a mathematical reason for Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Khalili doesn't gloss over the counter-intuitive, not to mention weird, aspects of quantum physics. In fact, he does his best to explain that the 'quantum world' is totally consistent within the confines of its mathematical rules whilst defying all attempts to explain its physical manifestations based on our everyday experience.

He only includes one equation in the book, for 'aesthetic reasons', which he calls 'the most important equation in physics': Schrodinger's equation (John Barrow gives it the same status). Not all physicists agree, like Carlo Rovelli, who argues that the wave function is a fiction and therefore an illusory mathematical tool. Khalili, on the other hand, makes the wave function central to his exposition on virtually all aspects of the subject, whilst acknowledging its existence outside mathematics is not an undisputed fact. However, only a wave function can provide a visual analogue for physical phenomena that are unique to quantum mechanics like superposition and entanglement.
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on 1 July 2013
I'd studied quantum mechanics at university nearly 50 years ago so I had a good idea what to expect in terms of the unexpected but Jim Al-Khalili made a better fist of explaining the subject than my chemistry lecturers had done all those years ago - and without delving into advanced maths. This is the third or fourth popular science book on quantum mechanics that I've read in recent months and it is by far the best. Jim has done an excellent job of explaining the principles of this complex field and approaches the subject in quite a light hearted way with little injections of humour here and there which make the subject matter feel less remote and the author more human. It is also reassuring that he states several times that no-one really understands what is going on at the quantum level, beyond, that is, what is mathematically calculated or experimentally observed, because it is so divorced from what we experience in the macro world, with most of it being counter-intuitive and bordering on the metaphysical. This repeated reassurance at least means that readers realise they are not alone in puzzling over the deeper significance of quantum physics.

The last couple of chapters tried to cover too much ground, in my view, and consequently were less understandable than what had gone before. Many of the points discussed were extremely speculative. Also, when discussing some aspects of molecular biology, Jim seemed to draw a distinction between what he would call a "quantum effect" and what I would refer to as "ordinary chemistry". All of chemistry is underpinned by quantum mechanics so this distinction appears out of place.

Some parts I couldn't follow, such as the descriptions of superstring theory and M-theory, but I suspect that this is because these topics do require a mathematical approach which is outside the scope of the book. Also, most of the chapters end with a short discourse by a guest author and I found these to be hit and miss, depending, I suppose, on how good each author is in explaining the subject matter to non-physicists. I'm not convinced these sequels added much to the book and it might have been better to have omitted them.

But, overall, this is an excellent book, providing a first-rate, non-mathematical introduction to the quantum world.
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on 2 December 2010
This is simply an outstanding exposition of an exceptionally difficult subject: it is exemplary in its conceptual presentation, taking a quintessential example of the quantum (the two-slit 'trick') and working, logically, methodically and at all times with great thought and care for the lay status of the reader, towards a clear and thorough explanation (so far as anyone can be said to have one!).

(Although no specific knowledge of Quantum Mechanics is needed, it is fair to say that a good basic knowledge of such concepts as what is meant by the electromagnetic spectrum, for instance, will be required. But you wouldn't be looking at investigating this subject, presumably, if you didn't already possess that.)

A book that has a rare quality of being both thoroughly intellectual and simultaneously warm and almost intimate in its personal communication with the reader, not to mention being very funny at times: the author's sincere wish to communicate his knowledge and enthusiasm shines through.

I have struggled with Penrose and Hawking, amongst others, but not this time. I Can't praise its achievement enough. Oh yes, and, apart from a few forgivable misdemeanors, the author's writing is generally grammatically and semantically good, unlike so much of today's writing, making the subject even more comprehensible.
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on 2 April 2017
This is a superb set of readings and text by a first class presenter and editor/writer. Like many people I have very little scientific training yet am puzzled and fascinated by the strange world uncovered by quantum mechanics. This book is, in my view, an essential exploration of this science, and very accessible for the literate reader.
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on 1 March 2013
Jim Al-Khalili's style is chatty, but he manages to tackle this incredibly difficult/confusing subject well.
I wanted to know what the world is really like at the quantum level, but I found out that nobody can say for certain; all there is are mathematical models. But this uncertainty at the possible interpretations makes this a fascinating read.
J A-K doesn't bamboozle you with lots of maths, and wherever possible provides analogies in the real (macro) world that help the reader to get to grips with the ideas he is trying to convey.
My only gripe is that the book contains a number of figures/pictures that have self-contained text associated with them, but that are not directly referenced in the main text. This meant I was never sure when to look at these figures since I didn't know if I'd read enough of the main text for them to make sense. Hence the one star dropped, but otherwise this is an excellent and thought provoking book.
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2008
Does anybody really understand Quantum Mechanics? I wonder, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. If like me you're one of those people that got most of the way through A Brief History of Time, and felt that your grip on the subject became increasingly tenuous the more you read, then this is book is a great opportunity to re-visit the subject and approach from a different angle, and by doing so, understand it in much better. It is very clearly written in an approachable and informal style that makes it easy to pick up and to read and with few (if indeed any) equations.

I like the presentation of the book, 280 pages of high-quality paper with clear, colour diagrams that really do help to understand the concepts together with a clear typeface. That may sound trivial but like walking into a house I like it to be welcoming as opposed to austere.

Now I realise that I both understand and fail to understand quantum mechanics both at the same time, and having read this book, I'm quite comfortable with that. I award it only 4 stars, but that's only because it doesn't have all the answers, not yet.
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on 16 January 2018
The dialog may be suitable for a video presentation where you have images to focus on as the author rambles along, but not so in book form.
Although I have enjoyed Dr Al-Khahili's BBC videos on the subject. I found this book annoyingly confusing.
The problem is his juxtaposition of of possibilities and facts; i.e. is the paragraph a presentation of the students question, or the teaches answer.
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on 4 April 2017
I'm a second year physics student and found this book to strike a great balance between enticing a beginner while also stimulating someone with prior knowledge to the field. Great read.
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on 21 August 2016
Chapter 1 has left me more perplexed than when I started. I had thought that wave/particle duality, shown by the double-split experiment, applied to sub-atomic particles (photons, electrons etc). However according to this book it applies at the atomic level. I watched an online lecture from Yale University on quantum theory which seemed to refer to sub-atomic particles only. Well I'll just have to suspend disbelief and continue.
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I must say Jim Al-Khalili as got to be the most funniest scientist on the planet - as most scientists have the personality of a corpse.

His analogies are second to none, and his one liners are too funny.

Unlike, some pompus books I have read in the past, where the author even confuses himself, with the overuse of formal words.This book flows from beginning to end with a language that is straight forward.

To me his style of formal and informal writing, just does it for me. He definitely knows his target audience - that's everyday people like myself, with a sense of humour, who want to know how the universe works.

If you want to read a book about the brief history of science and Quantum Mechanics for the first time, without falling asleep. Then buy Quantum: A guide for the perplexed - I've got to admit, after reading this book I am really less baffled, than when I read the first pages. 10/10
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