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on 1 June 2013
I was disappointed with this book. It has good information about how scientists in the early 20th century struggled with Quantum Theory but there appears much the author does not to understand. In the Introduction (page viii) he states:

"But there remains one area of science that cannot be entirely rationalized using everyday language, or explained in simple, easily digestible concepts and sound bites. I refer not to any speculative, half-baked idea based on some pseudo-scientific arguments such as ESP or, worse still, astrology."

Why, oh why, denigrate two subjects about which he appears to have little evidence to back up his argument?

I am not defending these two disciplines, just asking whether you these comments are relevant to the subject discussed in the book and based according to scientific methods and principals as one would hope.

One aspect that cannot be denied is that Quantum Mechanics was developed by people who were thinking the unthinkable. Every new advance was in spite of everything that they held to be true. Not only did they have to think of these new concepts, they also had to go against convention. It was only when the results of careful experimentation showed that their new 'ridiculous' incomplete theories were seen to be better explanations of reality that they could be used with some confidence.

So why be contemptuous of people who, confused with something in their lives, are searching for some understanding?

As my Dad said, many years ago, "Don't knock the opposition. Explain the good points of your own product."

The discovery of bacteria causing stomach ulcers was delayed because the idea was ridiculed, so scientists do need to be careful of unscientific behaviour, especially in a science book!

I thought that the descriptions were often laboured, the examples introduced too many complications and, if having some knowledge of the subject, the author's description of how perplexing the new concepts and his reassurances are distracting and, on occasion, very annoying. The structure of the first few chapters were not consistent. It was not: chapter title + author, the the chapter.

And chapter 3 talks about horoscopes! Talking about a train or bus timetable, or when a TV programme is expected to appear, would have been a better introduction to foretelling the future. It is something that more people do with more certainty than looking at horoscopes or weather forecasts for that matter!
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on 29 June 2014
I am well qualified to review a guide for the perplexed, being very perplexed. I did not study physics beyond the compulsory level at school but became curious about quantum physics back in the 1990s and read John Gribbin’s “In search of Schrödinger’s Cat”. I recall that I grasped some basic concepts from that book and enjoyed reading it, even though parts of it were challenging. Recently, I realized that the knowledge gained at that time had become hazy and I wanted to re-learn from a more up-to-date book. I chose this one because the preview indicates that it covers not only theory but also applications, such as quantum computing. But I feel that I know even less now. If someone asks me what I’ve learned from a non-fiction book immediately after I’ve read it, I can usually talk about some of the ideas off the top of my head. But if someone were to ask me now to talk about wavefunctions, the uncertainty principle, string theory, entanglement, or the strong nuclear force – all topics covered in this book – I couldn’t reliably give even a one-sentence overview of any of them.

The book is just too disorganized to make any sense of it. Some terms are used without being explained (for example, “alpha particle”). Information is not summarized or reinforced. Some topics seem to have quantum-tunnelled their way into some chapters. (Ha! I have at least retained a technical phrase in my brain and managed to work it into a sentence. But I do not guarantee that I have used it correctly, being perplexed.)

The thing is that the book doesn’t actually claim that it will make the perplexed any less perplexed. Maybe we are doomed to perplexity in perpetuity. I do appreciate that quantum mechanics is an inherently difficult subject and that a non-physicist cannot expect to fully understand it, but I had hoped to get something out of the book. I now notice that some of the positive reviews are from people who studied quantum mechanics or other scientific disciplines at university level. Maybe this book is suitable for them. For me, free booklets from past Royal Society Summer Science Exhibitions provided better overviews of various topics in physics.

I now discover that there’s a more recent book by John Gribbin on quantum theory, “Schrödinger’s Kittens: And the Search for Reality”. Should have got that; should have gone to perplexed savers.
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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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VINE VOICEon 1 August 2007
This is an extremely interesting book and, considering the subject matter, very accessible. The author present the ideas and theories of the Quantum world without, as I think some other writers do, ascribing an almost "black magic" side to the subject. This temptation to sensationalise I find in some writers on Quantum Mechanics (QM) who tend to present themselves practically as high-priests, allowing us, the uninitiated, a glimpse of the wonders that lie beyond our comprehension, but not necessarily beyond theirs. So, well done! to the author, Jim Al-Khalili, for avoiding that irritating style.

Also, I was very interested to learn that Schrödinger's famous thought-experiment about the dead / alive cat, dealing with one of the weirder aspects of Quantum Theory - the collapse of the wave function into actuality only on observation or measurement - was proposed by Schrödinger as a rebuttal of that theory, on the basis that he considered the notion of the cat being simultaneously alive and dead as being absurd. As do I. All other books that I have read to date on QM discuss Schrödinger's cat as one of the many bizarre realities of QM rather than as being a warning sign that the theory is incomplete.

The world, the universe, matter, time and space are all exceedingly strange things. We can only perceive them, or anything else, through our senses. Undoubtedly much lies "out there" that our senses do not perceive. We have, and can have, only a glimpse of reality. It is therefore virtually impossible for us, even in principle, to fully understand how it all works. But work it undoubtedly does. Science is a search for the explanation and continually seeks the Holy Grail of physics, the Grand Unified Theory or the Theory of Everything, a quest which may never succeed. Gödel's theorem tells us that in principle an "entity" cannot be fully explained from within itself, only from without; so to explain the universe we will need to view things from outside the universe - a tough proposition!

But we can have fun as best we can. Newtonian physics, Special Relativity, General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and String Theory are progressions, additions and/or refinements to previously held "certainties". We must remember well that previous certainties have always eventually been found wanting in small or large part. And Quantum Mechanics is simply a theory that fits extremely well many experimental observations and predictions. That's all. And for me, the very fact that it is so mathematically precise denies it the "black magic" aspect that many who write about it seem to relish promoting above all else. The weirdness of the experimental observations of the workings of QM is, in my view, due to our current lack of understanding of the physical process at work.

Quantum Mechanics is a truly fascinating subject and is treated wonderfully well in this fine book, on a par to my mind with the also excellent "Quantum Reality", by Nick Herbert.

I highly recommended Mr Al-Khalili's work which informs us beautifully while avoiding sensationalism. And when we finish his book we are left with that all-pervading sense of awe that the very existence of "anything at all" should rightly provoke in us.
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on 5 February 2013
Having read several books on the subject of quantum mechanics/physics, all by reputable authors, I can testify that many have indeed left me perplexed on certain issues. This arises from the fact that most are written by academics seemingly unable to explain the subject matter in anything other than mathematical terms or at best by inadequate analogy. Whilst reluctantly accepting that complex math is an unavoidable feature of the quantum world, I continued to seek a writer who could convey the fundamental concepts in a manner which can be readily understood by somebody with a keen interest in physics and science.

I have enjoyed all the TV documentaries featuring Jim Al-Khalili, so I was keen to see whether his excellent presentation style transposed to the written word in his `guide for the perplexed'. I was not disappointed and although the book covers the same ground as others, it does so with the minimum of maths and the some of the best analogies and graphics I have encountered to date. He freely admits there are many unanswered questions in the quantum world but does not, unlike other authors attempt to baffle the reader with esoteric explanations aimed at demonstrating academic prowess rather than clarification of a difficult concept.

The content covers technical and historical aspects of the subject and the text is supported by numerous diagrams and also several `box' inserts by other contributors on particular issues. JAK clearly has an empathy with the target audience which encourages the reader to stay with the content rather than dismiss it as too complicated. However his approach does not dumb-down what is clearly a challenging subject and the book would certainly be useful preparatory reading for those considering a higher education in physics.

`Quantum - A Guide for the Perplexed' will not make you an expert on, or provide a complete understanding of particle physics, but for the interested amateur it is a thoroughly good read. In spite of the typo error in the `Planck's constant' box (page 21) which should indicate a value of 6.63 x 10 to the power of minus 34, I still consider the book deserves a five star rating.
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on 2 January 2007
I will admit that the title of this book grabbed me straight away. Having been self-studying quantum physics and evangelistically telling friends and anyone who would listen about the wonderful world of the sub-atomic, i thought a general reader on the subject would be good for 'summing up' etc.

In this regard Al-Khalili does not disappoint. The historical progress of thought from the world of classical (Newtonian) physics through the golden age where physics and philosophy walked uneasily hand-in-hand during the 1920's and 30's and the rise to prominence of the 'greats' of theoretical physics - Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Einstein, Bohr, Pauli, et al - is very well and clearly documented and engagingly presented.

The vibrancy of the crashing principles and ideas of quantum mechanics and the birth of subatomic theory is fascinating in itself, but it is Al-Khalili's sheer enthusiasm for the truly strange nature of the universe at the quantum level that is most infectious. This can often lead to hints of "no, look how weird this is!" but for the most part, the ideas are clearly presented and logically presented without resorting to jingoism and tenuous metaphor.

The only place the book really falls down is in its layout in this edition. Often very key principles are interrupted by small fly out boxes or spin-off articles within a chapter which can lead your train of thought to go "ooh, hang on, i better read that, it looks interesting" which can really wreck your train of thought on the main chapter text.

These articles are always interesting and are often practical examples of current research into matters being discussed within the chapter, often by prominent current researchers - it's just the layout that suffers a little.

If you are looking for a good introduction to quantum superposition, wavefunction, subatomic structure, the nature of energy and particles, quantum tunnelling, uncertainty principle, non-locality, relativity etc then this book is a very good place to start.

Strangely, my friend is reading Brian Greene's book "The Fabric of the Cosmos" at the mo and so the interruptions are often longer than just having to avoid interim articles as discussion flips between singularity and unification at the quantum level, so i shouldn't be so hard on Dr Al-Khalili really!

A good investment, particularly for the new quantum agers who are currently entralled by Doctor Who!
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on 1 February 2013
If you're looking for anything meaningful here, think again. The book's very informative, but it's painful reading - agnostic, pedantic and devoid of feeling.
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on 1 July 2012
I have been trying to get my head around quantum theory for decades (literally) but always had a mental block - mainly due to wavefunctions and too much mathematics I think. (Or is it poor lecturing of quantum chemistry when I did my degree all those years go) However, I have finally found a book that has started to help me make sense of it all.

Quantum is written by Jim Al-Khalili in a very readable style - if you like his way of presenting ideas on the various TV and radio shows then you will like this book - I could almost hear him reading it to me. Throughout the entire book there is only one mathematical equation - Schrodinger's equation - and it makes only one appearance, quite early on. All of the ideas are explained by analogy, making the whole topic much less daunting.

He does cover pretty much all of the quantum theory - starting off with the early interpretations of atomic structure, some of which are probably still taught, why and how they were proved wrong, through to the present day theories with examples of where quantum theory is applicable to everyday life with suggestions of where the theory and applications will go next (quantum computing being the main example).

All the major topics / theories are included; the double-slit experiment features heavily, but the book also adequately covers atomic structure, Schrodinger's cat, quantum tunnelling, superposition of the aforementioned dreaded wavefunctions and their decoherence. There is also a discussion on the variety of current theories, whether they could all be correct or just one and where current opinion is tending to head.

So, whilst I still don't understand quantum theory enough to be able to explain it to someone else (I think this is just me, not the fault of the book) I do feel ready to tackle some of the other books I have on the subject and in the recommended further reading list. I would also definitely recommend this book to anyone trying to understand quantum theory or to fill in some of the gaps in their understanding - it is probably one of the most accessible texts out there.
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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 28 December 2013
I started reading this book with eagerness and found it easy to digest. Not finished it yet, but looking forward to the rest of it. Only one thing that I'like to point out...

I got this as an e-book on kindle. In chapter two, it states planck's constant but misses out the minus sign on the exponent (therefore quoting a vastly big number, rather than an amazingly small one). Is this the same on the print version or is it an error in the e-book alone ? And if this fundamental error wasn't found before publishing, what other errors may I find ahead? Just a thought.

Apart from that. Well worth a go.
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