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Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2012
Aided by a strong technical understanding and a robust research team, Gribbin's expository texts are many and his experience commendable in explaining, anticipating possible barriers to comprehension, and putting theory into perspective. In this biography of Schrodinger, he covers many topics that he has treated previously. He even invites his readers to skip the chapter on wave mechanics if they have read In Search of Schrodinger's Cat. I didn't skip it because I was finding this book, built on the writing and feedback of many earlier books, compellingly comprehensible. His explanation (p 140) of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is as simple as I've read. The book has good Notes, Further Reading and an excellent Index.

No doubt Gribbin's vast library of expository work helped him identify the opportunity to pull together a biography of Schrodinger. Physics was the major part of Schrodinger's life and Gribbin gets it right. Gribbin also investigates Schrodinger's life and times. While he doesn't pull any punches detailing Schodinger's romantic affairs, poor decisions and their consequences, the analysis helps us understand the man and is never prurient. The upheaval of early twentieth century Europe created physical and mental turmoil for Schrodinger and Gribbin's historical commentary is direct and cogent. Schrodinger tended to have one eye on his career and another on the future security of his family. While not discounting the unusual, almost ridiculous, positions into which Schrodinger placed himself, Gribbin reconciles the physicist's motivations well. This is exemplified by Schrodinger's admirable, yet to his peers imponderable, public support of each his wife, lover and illegitimate child when living on British charity at Oxford, and also by his very European views of career options in the Americas. Nevertheless, as William McRae remarked to Gribbin, "Schrodinger had a singular talent for taking risks."

In assessing Schrodinger's excursion into biology with his book What is Life, Gribbin notes "that what is good in the book is not original, and that what is original in the book is not good". Dry humour aside, Gribbin shows how Schrodinger inspired a generation of biologists: quoting Francis Crick "he certainly made it seem as if great things were just around the corner" which, for Crick, they were.

Gribbin concludes in Schrodinger-like style, introducing the physicist's scientific legacy with very up-to-date accounts of testing quantum entanglement, quantum cryptography, quantum teleportation and quantum computing. A post-note introduces a new character, allowing another dig at the Copenhagen Interpretation, but more importantly realising two of Schrodinger's lifelong wishes, one of which was the connectedness of all reality.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2012
Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution
by John Gribbin

Erwin Schrodinger was a brilliant and colorful physicist famous for his contribution to quantum mechanics, winning the Noble Prize in 1933 for his discovery of wave mechanics.

John Gribbin's has written a biography with a human touch. More than that, the book gives a clear workmanlike description and history of quantum mechanics using Schrodinger as the thread. And then continues the story to the present day. This revolution in physics is described from Schrodinger's personal viewpoint and his contributions against the political background of world events in this creative era in physics and biology.

Schrodinger's life is commendably shown in a sequence of photographs captioned to provide one level of understanding of the story concluding with the Schrodinger equation on his memorial. The book is dedicated to Terry Rudolph a more recent contributor to quantum mechanics who surprisingly discovered he is Erwin Schrodinger's grandson. Wishing to be his own person Terry assisted with the book but will not read it - "I don't want to second-guess myself"!

The author is to be applauded for this worthwhile method of tackling a biography. (Incidentally, the Amazon Book Description incorrectly claims this is "[t]he first accessible, in-depth biography of ... Edwin Schrodinger". In fact that title belongs to Walter Moore's book "Schrodinger: Life and Thought" 1989.)

Malcolm Cameron
20 October 2012
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2013
I liked Gribbin's detailed description of Erwin's life and exploits. We find that scientists have all the same warts and failings as us ordinary folk. But we only really know Schrodinger as a famous personage through his major contribution to physics: his famous equation. It was important enough that it appeared in my college chemistry book and was used there to develop the electron shell theory for chemical bonds. Were it not for this famous equation, we would not care about his warts or failings.

Although Gribbin knows that the sales of his book is inversely proportional to the number of equations contained within it, he needs to bite the bullet and take the wraps off the equation and give an explanation of it. I think this is a major shortcoming in his book.

Gribbin's earlier book, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, provided a very good layman's description of the practical and paradoxical aspects of quantum physics. (I would easily give that book 5 stars.) Besides describing Schrodinger's famous cat in the box paradox, it describes the double slit experiments whose demonstrated results still defy common (logical) explanation. So I was hoping that Gribbin's new book would treat Schrodinger's equation with the same zeal and dedication that he gave in his earlier book.

There is a very good book called QED written by Richard Feynman where he explains quantum electrodynamics for anyone with a simple background in high school mathematics and geometry. Feynman demonstrates that It is possible to describe something very complex and sublime in a simple and understandable way. I was hoping that Gribbin could do the same for Schrodinger's equation.

Other than that, I liked it.

Jack
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2013
Engaging, earnest, and well-researched book written without an ounce of pomposity. Schrodinger comes across as a likeable rogue, sex maniac and borderline child molester of genius, obsessed with getting a pension. His bigamous happiness in supposedly religious Ireland is a joy to read about, and his tragic lapse of judgment when back in Austria is explained better than I've ever seen before. Nice work, well worth reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2013
Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution serves a few purposes for the interested reader. It details his personal history starting with family background as well as gives a history of quantum theory's evolution, both its physics and philosophy. The biography is fairly detailed and specific and goes into issues that would be considered very personal and is the stronger part of the book. The physics and philosophy is not particularly strong on a relative basis for those interested in a description for the non physicist.

The book starts by giving the family history of Erwin's parents and their history and details of the family tree. It gives his history as a boy and describes his academic excellence in the sciences. The book then moves onto classical physics and in particular Newtons classical mechanics and Maxwell's electricity and magnetism. The book alternates between the biography of Schrodinger and the evolution of quantum physics. The author jumps back into Schrodingers life and his part in the army during the first world war and then his subsequent journey back into academics. The first discoveries in quantum physics are then discussed, in particular Bohr, Planck and Einstein's early critical discoveries. Schrodingers academic career in Switzerland is then reviewed and the early romances of Erwin are detailed. Back to the physics the author describes the Heisenberg discoveries of matrix mechanics. We then go back and discuss Schrodinger's wave equation and the philosophy of the Copenhagen consensus which involves the collapsing wave function. The inheritance of Planck's chair in Berlin by Schrodinger is given to the reader and the author details Erwin's professional progress and growing eminence. The details of the politics of the Nobel prize are given as well as Schrodinger's journeys around the continents in varied academic institutions. The thought experiment of Schrodinger's cat is introduced and the seeming absurdity of it is discussed. His later years are included with the same focus as the younger and the evolving debate on the philosophy of quantum physics continues to be present throughout all the way until his final years when biology and genetic theories were being floated by Schrodinger. Finally the author spends some time on hidden variables quantum theories and quantum computing.

Schrodinger is scene to be an extremely colorful character with an incredible propensity for infidelity. His personal, romantic side is truly shocking in how cavalier he was throughout his life but it is interesting to read about. The physics is there but not well detailed and the author refers to his other books for reference too often which feels a bit like advertising. This is easy to read and informative for the biography but comparing this to the recent biography of Dirac for example, the quality of this is severely lacking. I dont regret reading it but i felt it was lacking in completeness in the physics which the author chose to focus on. Had it been purely biographical then i would be less judgemental.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I do not share the enthusiasm of others who rate this book so highly. It has nothing of the verve and storytelling that Graham Farmelo's "The Strangest Man" of Dirac and his science or Robert Kanigel's "The man who knew infinity" touch of explaining Number Theory of Hardy/Ramanujan collaboration to non-mathematicians. Those were novel pieces of story telling not only of the science but cleverly infusing the personas with the science. The author (Who I think is a physicist or science writer of excellent repute) has not taken the pains to create a story of the most famous equation (besides F=MA and E=MC2) ever from one of the most famous scientists ever. Its a shame the focus is on the man alone and not his work, afterall who is Schrodinger without his famous equation. Disappointing because Moore's book "Schrodinger" is a forbiddingly hard read and written without a doubt for the physicist or mathematician who wished to know Schrodinger and how he came about his work (It does that rather linearly and plods along but not without the glamourous personal life of ES), I thought this one would do better justice to that as he once wrote a rather nice but very elementary introduction to the Schrodinger work called "In search of Schrodinger's cat". We need something that bridges Moore's work and In search of Schrodinger's cat. This one's in plaintive need of the science for Schrodinger's sake.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The stories of the great physicists are not told in college. At MIT we focused more on solving Schrodinger's equation than we did on learning how he managed to come up with the darn thing in the first place. It turned out that he hated quantum jumps postulated by the Bohr atom, but when he found out that his wave equation was a kind of probability calculation and that the quantum jumps were just changes in the probability functions, he stated that he regretted having ever gotten involved with quantum mechanics. This is a very good read. You will enjoy it immensely.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2013
Here are the things I appreciate the most when reading biographies of scientists:
- They need to be biographical. What's the point of a biography that doesn't talk about the life of the person in question?
- They need to discuss their work. The reason we know of these people is their work of course, so the book needs to explain what they did and why it's important enough that they went down in history. On the other hand, the explanation must be in a form a non expert can appreciate.
- They should put the subject's work in context both historically and scientifically. Why did they go after that specific problem and not another? In the case of scientists that lived a the turn of the 20th century, political issues and the world wars had great impact on them and their work (think of all the Jewish scientists that had to leave Germany, or lost their job).
- They need to be entertaining. A dry and sterile collection of data does not make for a good read. I am not reading to prepare for an exam, I am reading for fun.

So how did this book fair against my expectations? Very well! Of course it helps that Schrodinger's life is as colorful as it is, with his slew of mistresses and illegitimate children. And Schrodinger's beef against the Copenhagen interpretation is well explored. I particularly enjoyed the space the book reserved to the philosophical and scientific implications of his work, and its practical applications.

For those who enjoy biographies of famous scientists, I also recommend The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell and The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2014
Anyone familiar with John Gribbin's earlier books knows what a terrific science writer he is. This 2013 biography of Schrödinger is no exception. The writing is clear and extremely well-organized, especially given the complexity of the material. The book is hard to put down.

All of Schrödinger's genius as well as his personal life are spelled out. Gribbin points out that the milieu of Germany and Austria in the late 1920's and early 30's made the idea of an "open marriage" much more acceptable. This is certainly true and Schrödinger and his wife took full advantage of that. His wife had a long-term open affair with Hermann Weyl and Schrödinger had multiple affairs with married women, even, much to the horror of Oxford, going out publicly with his "second" wife (who was also married to someone else). What is disconcerting about Schrödinger's personal life wasn't his relationship with other adult women but his penchant for teenage girls, especially young ones. In one case, starting when the girl was 14 with consummation at 17, the girl became pregnant and had an abortion and Gribbin says it is likely that her later miscarriages and inability to have children were related to that. In another case, his best friend's niece was 12 and Schrödinger had to be warned off by her uncle. Yet the uncle and Schrödinger remained best friends! Schrödinger was an incredible mix of scientific genius, social charm, superb teacher and lecturer, devotee of Eastern religions, and a man who never ceased "falling in love" with other girls and women. What is surprising (and disturbing) given Schrödinger's other great strengths in human relationships is the lack of empathy or understanding on his part of the power relationship that existed between the famous physicist and young teenagers and his lack of concern about the potential negative effect on their lives. I know this is an analysis of morals done from a different time and place. But I found it disturbing nonetheless, especially given Schrödinger's many positive traits.

The above does not at all imply that this book is some sort of personal exposé of Schrödinger. The vast majority of it is about his invaluable contributions to the quantum revolution. Schrödinger had a fundamentally different view than the "Copenhagen interpretation." Schrodinger's wave equation has proven to be one of the foundations of the discipline. One of the strengths of the book is Gribbin's explanation of how Schrödinger's interpretation has come to be more accepted and how it relates to ideas like multiple universes and the strange fact of nonlocality in quantum physics. As with everything Gribbin writes, his explanations are exceptionally good. He uses analogies and examples to clarify points. He is able to take the reader along with him, never talking down to the reader and always respecting the reader's intelligence. The book covers the key ideas of quantum physics discussed in his previous books but here they are set into historical context. This is first-rate science writing.

We've had Gribbin's In Search of Schrödinger's Cat and Schrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality. Here we just have Schrödinger with all his strengths and flaws. I recommend this book in the strongest terms for anyone interested in the history of 20th century science. It is both a scientific and biographical tour de force that any educated reader will find compelling.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2013
clearly written, held my attention. I read straight through and hated to get to the end. You will learn not only about the man but also his contributions to Physics in the context of his times
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