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132 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent conceptual introduction to quantum mechanics, with history and humor.
First let me say that I have a degree in physics and in education. I may not be the typical reader but I think I can provide a reasonable review of this book.

The book is a very clear and well delineated explanation of the basics of quantum mechanics. Orzel provides the relevant background needed to understand each section along with a historical outline of...
Published on December 25, 2009 by Two kids mom

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Quantum' physics, that is
Chad Orzel has come up with an interesting way to teach quantum physics - by using scenarios from the real world. He does this specifically by having conversations with his dog, Emmy, about how she'd like to catch those fast bunnies and squirrels in the back yard, or live in a universe where Chad always drops steak on the floor. It helps to make a...
Published on January 19, 2010 by J. Green


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132 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent conceptual introduction to quantum mechanics, with history and humor., December 25, 2009
This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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First let me say that I have a degree in physics and in education. I may not be the typical reader but I think I can provide a reasonable review of this book.

The book is a very clear and well delineated explanation of the basics of quantum mechanics. Orzel provides the relevant background needed to understand each section along with a historical outline of how the physics developed. His teaching is lucid and straightforward (think Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov). The examples and questions are provided outlined in a tongue in cheek manner as discussions with his dog. I am somewhat torn about the verbiage relating to his dog, it is sometimes funny, but can also be distracting. I think in the classroom the humor would come across more consistently. It does add a level of absurdity to the book, and if quantum mechanics is anything, it is sometimes quite absurd to those of us living our daily lives in a classical world.

I also laughed out loud many times while reading the chapter on debunking the snake oil salesmen who try to use various garbled versions of quantum mechanics to explain how their gizmos can provide "free energy" or "improve your health". I have had a lot of conversations with people about these contraptions (and those Amish space heaters advertized in the paper all the time, but that is another issue).

The historical perspective in each section is excellent, specifically the development of wave/particle duality and the Copenhagen interpretation. Orzel's presentation of the manner in which theories are developed and tested is superb. For students this is may be eye opening, many of them seem to believe that science develops in a linear and straightforward manner and the examples presented by Orzel show the more convoluted path often taken.

I took a class from Murray Gell-Mann a few years ago (well more than a few years) and we read "The Quark and the Jaguar" as part of our class assignment. After reading the Gell-Manns book and taking his class I felt like I knew a lot more about quantum mechanics, but I had to break up each section and really chew on it to reach that understanding. Mind you, I took quantum mechanics in college, I could do the math, but I had little true understanding of the underlying principles. "How to Teach Physics to your Dog" is a lot less mental work (and substantially less math) and yields an overall understanding of the concepts of quantum mechanics. In a way this book reminds me of Hewitt's Conceptual Physics textbook, the ideas are the most important and the minimal math plays a secondary and supporting role.

This book is appropriate for

* Physics students (after taking classical mechanics) from about high school AP level.

* To read BEFORE you take quantum mechanics at the college level. This book is not going to help you with the differential equations, Fourier transformations and other math, but at least you might know why you are doing them.

* Those with at least some background (or a great deal of interest) in science who wish to grasp the concepts of quantum mechanics. If you have absolutely no science at all you may struggle with some of the vocabulary.

Overall a very enjoyable read, laugh out loud funny at times and a clear and well organized introduction to quantum mechanics for those with interest in science. Highly recommend.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quantum Mechanics for the Lay Person - excellent job with a few minor quibbles, December 26, 2009
This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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Writing a book about physics for laymen can always be a difficult task. I have read more than I can count. Books can either be too technical and unapproachable to be of interest to the lay person, or they can be so silly and irrelevant that not enough meaty information is contained within. As a background on myself, I am an engineer by training, and as a wise man on Magrathea once said, "I am a great fan of science."

The book itself is geared towards somebody with a decent knowledge of physics and math, but not necessarily quantum mechanics. I would say high-school level should be fine, but then again, with what passes for high school education, it's possible that it could be beyond some people (some may have issue with words like exponential). The reader should note that the book is really "How to Teach Quantum Mechanics To Your Dog" as Physics in general is not covered (and it even avoids relativity). This is not a negative, but just an FYI.

Overall, excellent book---I probably picked up something new in every chapter. Some of the science was familiar, though I was not aware of all the players and fun stories involved. For the science I knew, I appreciated having a good way to explain it to friends and family. As the book progressed, I discovered new things about quantum mechanics which I did not know.

You'll learn about how the most often referenced piece of quantum mechanics (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) is also the most misunderstood. You'll also learn not only about Schrodinger's Cat, but also his many women (who knew physicists were like that?). The book builds on basic quantum mechanics to discuss some of the more interesting theories---for instance, the many-worlds theory to explain how things like superposition actually work (while Orzel doesn't mention it, the many-worlds theory also helps solve some mathematical difficulties in both cosmology and evolution). However, no matter what the philosophy you choose to apply to why certain things happen, it does not change the equations, which is the point of the book. He also discusses quantum zeno (how to stop a quantum state jump by observing it), quantum tunneling, quantum entanglement, quantum teleportation, quantum electrodynamics, and some misuses of quantum physics (like quantum healing). In short, anything quantum you want to know about is likely summarized in this little tome.

Throughout the book, the dialogue is presented as a talk between the scientist and his dog. At times it got a little tedious, but more often than not, it broke up the scientific jargon with conversation, and occasionally the analogies to a dog finding a bunny in the backyard actually seemed to work (or treats in a bag). I also dug the occasional obligatory Star Trek reference... of course quantum states existing in many worlds would include the evil worlds where the quantum particles all have goatees.....

I will knock off 1 star for this----I don't feel the book did enough to explain how quantum mechanics is used in our everyday lives. Quantum tunneling microscopes are cool, but who knows what they are? A few pages on lasers or tunnel diodes might have been nice. There were brief discussions of quantum cryptography and computing, but I thought these could have been expanded. In addition, quantum electrodynamics started to get a little too technical and deep for an average reader (but it was the last technical chapter, so I think it was well placed).

To learn more, I would recommend some of the excellent books by Simon Singh who has an equally approachable way with explaining complex science. Chad Orzel brushes the edge of relativity, but specifically says he is avoiding it for the purposes of his book. To read some excellent explanations of relativity and cosmology in a similar voice, you might augment this book with "The Big Bang" by Singh.

Overall, I give the book 4 stars---it is an excellent effort, and I definitely learned quite a bit from reading it. While I did get it through the Vine program, this is the kind of book I would definitely recommend purchasing yourself. I removed 1 star because I really did want some more practical applications (and I did feel that the voice sometimes drifted too technical for the average reader), but it is a quality piece of work and will have a place on my shelf by Stephen Hawking and others.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Quantum' physics, that is, January 19, 2010
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J. Green (Los Angeles, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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Chad Orzel has come up with an interesting way to teach quantum physics - by using scenarios from the real world. He does this specifically by having conversations with his dog, Emmy, about how she'd like to catch those fast bunnies and squirrels in the back yard, or live in a universe where Chad always drops steak on the floor. It helps to make a difficult-to-understand subject a little more applicable to what we see, and the little discussions he has with the dog are used very well to clear up the ideas he's discussed and I found many of my own questions answered that way.

My beef with the book is that it wasn't clear this was about quantum physics. Mr. Orzel is not really writing for the lay person as much as he's writing for someone who already has a decent understanding about classical physics. My high school physics class was a long time ago and I didn't understand it very well even then. But it's still a subject I wish I could understand better now, but it doesn't seem to come as easily as it does for some others. Nonetheless, I can say that I now understand *some* things about quantum physics a little better.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear enough for a smart 11 year old, January 20, 2010
This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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My 11 year old son is nuts about physics, so I got this book to see how it would go over with him. It did, perfectly. The whole ruse of explaining physics to a dog was hilarious to him and really made concrete some of the things that the author was trying to explain. I had my son explaining to me, laughing, how a dog could walk through a tree if he went slowly enough (with all the physics behind that crazy statement) and then hilariously illustrating what would happen if the dog didn't go quite slow enough. (He'd bonk his head). You'd think he was recounting a Calvin and Hobbes joke. The entire time my son was reading this he kept coming to me with, "did you know..." and "wow! I never realized that" epiphanies. He did say that some of the stuff being explained was really hard, although he jumped to the author's defense saying that he thinks it's not that he did a bad job explaining it, it's just that some of it was, well, tough.

I am very pleased with this book and am so glad I selected it for my son. It seems to be a great choice for an intelligent person without much real physics background who wants to learn about the material.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light-hearted introduction to quantum mechanics, August 4, 2011
There is perhaps no area of Physics that has garnered as much fascination as quantum mechanics, save perhaps the theory of relativity. Yet in a sense the weirdness associated with quantum mechanics is even more profound than that associated with relativity. Relativity deals with physics of very fast objects, and even though it challenges our normal way of thinking, it still preserves some of the basic intuitions of what does it mean to be a physical object, how we measure properties of those objects, and what those objects can and cannot do. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, puts all those basic notion to a test. We are forced to reconsider even our basic understanding of what reality is. There have been many popular accounts of Quantum Mechanics over the years, and this book is yet another attempt of bringing this arcane field to the general readership. So despite what the title may say, this is not a book about Physics in general, but just about quantum mechanics. The dog from the title is author's German shepherd, and she is used as a stand-in for all the naïve, "Newtonian" ways of thinking about the world. Each chapter in the book covers a different aspect of quantum theory, and all the discussions are motivated in a light-hearted way by author's "dialogues" with his dog. These "dialogues" are meant to provide some comic relief from the otherwise technical subject matter. As such they work fine, although I am not the biggest fan of author's attempts at humor. The explanations provided in the book are actually very good - they are very well written, accessible to the general audience, and absolutely conceptually correct. This last point should not be taken for granted, as I have seen many attempts at making Physics accessible to the general audience that don't actually do justice to the actual Physics. One thing that I in particular like about this book is that it mentions several more recent experiments that have shed important light at the foundational aspects of quantum mechanics. In that respect this popular treatment is as up-to-date as they come. As a college Physics professor myself, I appreciate all the effort that the author has put into making this material accessible. As far as introductory, non-technical books on quantum mechanics go, this one clearly hits its targeted audience.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bowser understands the uncertainty principle, and you don't, January 11, 2010
This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
I flipped through Quantum Physics for Dummies -- impenetrable. I selected pages at random from Quantum Mechanics Demystified -- nothing but equations and hieroglyphics.
But Chad Orzel explains things like wave-particle duality and the many-worlds hypothesis in terms that dogs can understand. And you and I, dear reader? We're the dogs.
I never took a physics class, and I don't really understand about "allowed states" and about how polarized-light wavelengths can vary horizontally and vertically.
But I can think like a dog -- so I know just what Orzel means when he talks about bunnies hopping up and down the grass while squirrels zigzag across it.
And because Orzel prefaces every chapter with a canine conversation -- his Emmy is a German Shepherd -- there are a lot of bunnies, cats and squirrels in this discussion of quantum basics.
One chapter explains that particles (and even large chunks of matter) can be in multiple positions at once, but that we can perceive only a sliver of multifaceted reality -- which leads both to the multiple-worlds hypothesis and to that Star Trek episode with the evil Spock wearing a goatee.
Despite the joking around, Orzel isn't always simple or clear; quantum mechanics is pretty dense stuff. He lost me, for example, somewhere around the Bell theorem for resolving the famous Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen paradox. (Well, famous among physicists, I guess.)
But the implications for proving that Einstein's idea was "brilliantly wrong" are profound: "Our universe," Orzel says, "cannot be described by any theorem in which particles have definite properties at all times, and in which measurements made in one place are not affected by measurements in other places."
Yet if that sounds scary -- everything's utterly random -- it also raises the prospect of phenomena like quantum computing, cryptography and teleportation (which Orzel describes, using one of his down-to-earth analogies, in terms of a fax machine).
With the Large Hadron Collider over in Geneva about to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson and supersymmetry, exciting discoveries are on the way.
So you'd better brush up on your quantum mechanics. You can talk to Emmy all about it
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Central Quantum Physics Clearly and Sharply Explained +++, December 31, 2009
This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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"How to Teach Physics to Your Dog" shows that a true understanding of a subject is proven by an ability to explain the central and primary ideas in a clear-and-sharp way. I have not seen such a clear-and-sharp explanation of primary quantum physics since Richard Feynman. Chad Orzel does this with far less advanced math as well. The intervening dialogs with "Emmy", the quantum dog, are fun, and further the explanation of quantum topics. The explanations are BOTH clear AND sharp -- and the explanatory examples and diagrams are just as well-chosen. The explanations are very CLEAR -- as EASY to follow as such quantum topics can be MADE to be. They are also very SHARP -- very careful in their cause-and-effect relations, implications and limitations. Chad Orzel is very picky in a very good way -- knows just what to show, just how far to go and just when to stop.

In particular, I greatly value the Central Principles of Quantum Mechanics EXACTLY as laid-out starting with the first pages of chapter 3. That is -- 1. Wavefunctions -- 2. Allowed States -- 3. Probability -- 4. Measurement --. Chad Orzel explains these four CENTRAL aspects in a very clear-and-sharp way -- and exactly just when and how quantum interpetation and resulting alternatives occur -- and their cause-and-effect relations, implications and limitations. So, it is possible to better understand just what is "real" and "unreal" about quantum physics and the main interpetations of quantum physics -- via the Central Principles of Quantum Mechanics. As Chad Orzel points-out -- it IS quite strange that quantum physics, accurate to fourteen significant figures, can have such latitude in interpetation. Yet, to be sure, after Bell Non-locality has been worked-out and proven via numerous experiments -- there is only so much latitude and no more -- as Chad Orzel shows step-by-step.

I learned some new aspects of quantum physics and cleared-up some murky areas and ideas of my own. This is despite my own fairly advanced physics and mathematics background, including quantum physics. So, I re-learned an over-all lesson -- one cannot assume clear-and-sharp understanding of a given subject without clear-and-sharp review and reflection -- despite knowing many details of the subject. Nothing replaces such a clear-and-sharp overview -- and without it one can get lost in the details and mistaken in application of detailed methods. Of course, the reverse is equally valid -- without knowing even central and primary details of a subject, especially one like quantum physics, there is little chance of good real-world application -- as the very last part of this book shows about murky attempts to apply quantum physics "buzz-words" to various fringe topics such as "free" energy, "easy" alternative technology and "easy" alternative metaphysics. As Chad Orzel states, if seems too good to be true it most likely IS too good to be true. In any case, it seems unwise to so quickly throw quantum names and terms in directions far away from quantum-scale wave-packets +++
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cute, elementary, but really only for starting-out science geeks, February 13, 2010
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This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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"How to Teach Physics to Your Dog" is a fun read, no doubt about it. It is very cute, taking high-level physics into the backyard, and turning quantum-everything into squirrels and bunnies for the dog to chase. If you've heard about "Quantum Physics" and you are just starting out in trying to figure out what that means, then definitely, this is the book for you.

However, for those of us who have been science geeks for years (I'm a Professional Engineer and total science geek), there isn't anything new here to learn. It's a cute rehash of what I already knew.

This is quantum physics at it's simplest, and most accessible level. Shooting at that - accessible - target, Orzel does a WONDERFUL job of making the complex understandable. If that is where you are - then by all means, read this - I highly recommend this book for that level of reader.

Beyond that level -- well, it's still a cute book. Orzel and Emmy (his dog) have some fun conversations, and it's a nice, light, and very enjoyable read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Silly but thorough introduction to the world of quantum mechanics, January 4, 2010
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This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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Quantum mechanics is a tough subject, and an easy way for frauds like Deepak Chopra and Gary Zukav to screw around with the heads of the uninitiated -- after all, in a subject so persistently weird and barely comprehensible, it's very easy to make up a line of BS that sounds sort of plausible to a mark desperate for abundant wealth and/or health. The fact that public perception of QM is still focused on the Copenhagen interpretation and Schrödinger's Cat really doesn't help matters -- "quantum" has become a buzzword for "anything goes. Physics professor and blogger Chad Orzel, of ScienceBlogs' Uncertain Principles, has decided to start with his dog, who apparently has a problem with evil squirrels selling free energy schemes.

Emmy the German Shepherd mix is an amusing character -- voraciously curious, territorial, and as much a hustler as you'd expect any housepet to be. Orzel's "conversations" generally start out with Emmy using half-understood principles of quantum physics to her advantage (usually in a manner that involves trying to catch rabbits or get rid of the evil squirrels, though at one point invoking Schrödinger's Cat to scam an extra treat out of her owner). All the way through, Orzel plays the patient teacher, explaining how the things Emmy half-understands actually works, or, in many cases, probably work. There's a fair amount of math, but anyone with a decent handle on algebra should be able to get the bulk of it. (If you're using it as a study guide for a test, though, don't skimp on your calculus.)

Orzel's conceit is perhaps not particularly original, but it follows in the well-trodden quasi-Socratic footsteps of books like Mr Tompkins, Godel, Escher, Bach, and The Planiverse, and it's definitely a credit to the genre. More advanced science students might find it a bit fluffy and even elementary (Orzel's explicit handwaving of the multiple QM interpretations out there might prove to be an irritant) but overall, this book is more than sufficient to teach you enough to keep the Choprawoo at bay.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Learning can indeed be fun, and whimsical and Orzel proves it!, December 29, 2009
This review is from: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (Hardcover)
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Since reading The Dancing Wu Li Masters an Overview of the New Physics by Gary Zukav many years ago, I have been fascinated by
Quantum Physics. I do not claim to understand it, but I am intrigued.

It makes perfect sense to me that there is not only order in the universe, thus in everyday life, but chaos as well. I have read several books on the subject, and always find myself nodding and saying to myself, yes! of course!

Orzel's book caught my attention immediately because of the dog. There is a dog on the cover, and a dog who is part of the book. This time quantum physics is presented as an explanation to the dog. I love dogs. I am intrigued by the subject, so whats not to like?

I found this book to be entertaining in it approach, and I fell immediately in love with Emmy the cutest smartest do in the world,
as she carefully explains.

This is not a book of humor. It is a book that approaches a serious and fascinating subject with humor and whimsy. Perfect! Read it. Really.. you won't be sorry.
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How to Teach Physics to Your Dog
How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel (Hardcover - December 22, 2009)
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