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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 June 2014
This book differs from most writings about quantum theory, in focusing more on the human aspects of the great endeavour to uncover one of nature's deepest secrets - what is reality?

The cast is a large, multi-national (although mostly European) one, with the two principal players being (as the title tells you) Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. The epic, long-running debate between them is the skeleton on which the author builds his story - an approach that helps the reader gain a foothold in the strange world of the quantum, and makes it easier to see just how bizarre the concepts must have seemed in the Twenties and Thirties. And still do, for that matter.

The author does an excellent job in balancing the baffling minutiae of the quantum world with the very human aspects of the story. Anyone interested in quantum theory, or just the history of science in general, will appreciate this book. Highly recommended.
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on 11 February 2015
A surprisingly gripping read.
More about the people than the theory (which is just as well for me, really!)

Gives real insight how each scientist got a bit further in understanding by leap-frogging over each other - by bouncing ideas off each other.

The characters of Einstein and Bohr are fascinating.
Einstein providing so much of the early impetus, but then not liking the implications.
Bohr taking that up and fully accepting the implications - but then becoming dogmatic about it.

It says so much about the strangeness of the quantum world that, over 100 years on, it is still so poorly understood by most of us - and scientists continue to struggle to find ways to describe it.

I think (unfortunately for me)it can only be described mathematically.
Maths seems to be our monkey-brain's tool for describing the unseeable.
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on 12 April 2016
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. But Mr Kumar has done such a splendid job of telling a story populated by such fascinating and brilliant characters that I didn't notice my own shortcomings - quite an accomplishment. There is a feast here for the layman to feed on and it is, I think, impossible to appreciate contemporary understanding of the atom, sub-atomic particles on so on without the assistance of an author of Manji Kumar's skill with the art of exposition.
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on 23 October 2013
There are a lot of popular science books on quantum theory but this one is different in that its aim is to question what's meant by reality. Manjit Kumar achieves this objective admirably. He also provides what I've found to be the best and most coherent account of the history of the development of quantum theory that I've read, managing, at the same time, to bring alive many of the key physicists and mathematicians involved, and not just Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein who are in the book's title. He also succeeded in explaining many aspects of quantum theory without resorting to mathematics, which is no mean feat. An exception was Bell's Inequality Theorem but I doubt that anyone could explain that in a non-mathematical way - despite having read several accounts by different authors I still have little idea of why this theory should tell us anything about hidden variables, but evidently it does.

Whilst the subject of reality forms the main theme of the book, it's past the half way point before this topic is discussed in any serious way. But then Manjit examines the concept very thoroughly, focussing on the Copenhagen interpretation along with Einstein's objectives to this interpretation, based on his belief that quantum theory is incomplete and that probability and non-locality must have some underlying explanation that is still to be discovered.

My only criticism is that I feel the book could have been shorter, perhaps my omitting some of the finer detail when it came to history or by cutting out some of the views expressed by "lesser" scientists. There is quite a lot of repetition but, from my perspective, I found that helpful in reinforcing many of the points raised. However, a reader more familiar with the area might find the repetition irritating.
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on 11 June 2013
This book is very easy to read and does not restrict itself to the two great protagonists, dealing in some detail with the lives and work of many of the great, mainly European, scientists between about 1880 and 1950. Einstein's theories of Relativity and General relativity are presented and modern scientists accept them as original revelations and orthodox belief.
At the sub-atomic scale the Quantum Theory of the great Dane Bohr and the related Uncertainty Principle provided Einstein with difficulties till he died in the United States. Basically small particles like electrons can only be shown to exist at the moment an external agency observes them, and if their position is known then its velocity cannot be. Einstein accepted these current limits to human knowledge, but could not accept them as absolute and ultimate limits. Intuitively many readers might side with Einstein, but Einstein to his death and other scientists too the present have been unable to show Bohr to be wrong.
The author describes the progress of the discoveries and reports living interactions of the various performers in a very readable way without recourse to abstruse mathematics. Is it dumbed down science?, very probably because how else can the reasonably intelligent layman make any sense of such an important and dramatic era which continued through two world wars.
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on 5 September 2011
If you are intelligent, inquisitive and occasionally want to tackle a book that is challenging yet reasonably accessible, here is an opportunity not to be missed. An interest in the workings of academe over nearly a century with the intellectual struggles of competing Nobel prize-winning scientists against an ever-changing background of political, economic and social challenges, will be a bonus and a revelation. Do not be put off by the science - quantum physics - nor by the fact that you consider yourself a historian, a literary man, a psychologist or a philosopher - there is plenty here for you to enjoy. The book falls into three excellently planned sections: the historical narrative of the struggle of great scientific minds lined up behind the genius of Einstein on one side and Nils Bohr and the Copenhagen School on the other; the exposition of the gradual emergence of 'quantum mechanics' to explain something that they all acknowledge but none could see so they could only set up model experiments to explore through contrasting theoretical and mathematical positions; and neat, short, detailed explanations of the 'facts' as they emerge over time. The latter are not impenetrable even to a non-scientist but could be skimmed through without affecting the quality of the read. I thoroughly recommend the challenge. I am a literature buff and historian by education and profession. This is the best book I have read for several years.
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on 19 December 2011
I really enjoyed this account of quantum mechanics, from the emergence of the idea of quanta as an uncomfortable way of explaining the black body spectrum to the developments of recent decades. It brings out the struggle of the scientists to come to terms with something that seems to be a true explanation of how the universe is, but which in many respects seems contrary to the nature of cause, effect, space, and time that we have experienced from babyhood upwards. I trained in another branch of physics and this book gave me a perspective which I never had before, and an understanding of how the modern consensus (such as it is) came to be. Not surprisingly, the author sometimes struggles to give a clear explanation of phenomena that are perhaps inexplicable in the verbal language we have, but overall he does extremely well. I'm not a philosopher either, but the example of quantum mechanics must show that there is an important limit to what we can infer from our experience of what the universe is like, and as a Christian, I see important implications here about the interface with what I believe is divine revelation. We are lucky in many ways to live in an age when there are such developments in understanding. Looking back at what people thought they knew 120 years ago, we must wonder what else there is to find out.
I read this on Kindle, and it is important to know that there is a chronological summary and a glossary at the back before the notes. I did not find these until I had finished, but it would be advantageous to bookmark them for reference while reading.
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