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In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality [Paperback]

John Gribbin
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 1, 1984 0553342533 978-0553341034
Quantum theory is so shocking that Einstein could not bring himself to accept it. It is so important that it provides the fundamental underpinning of all modern sciences. Without it, we'd have no nuclear power or nuclear weapons, no TV, no computers, no science of molecular biology, no understanding of DNA, no genetic engineering. In Search of Schrodinger's Cat tells the complete story of quantum mechanics, a truth stranger than any fiction. John Gribbin takes us step by step into an ever more bizarre and fascinating place, requiring only that we approach it with an open mind. He introduces the scientists who developed quantum theory. He investigates the atom, radiation, time travel, the birth of the universe, superconductors and life itself. And in a world full of its own delights, mysteries and surprises, he searches for Schrodinger's Cat - a search for quantum reality - as he brings every reader to a clear understanding of the most important area of scientific study today - quantum physics. In Search of Schrodinger's Cat is a fascinating and delightful introduction to the strange world of the quantum - an essential element in understanding today's world.

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Editorial Reviews Review

Part history book and part remedial physics text for those who lost interest when the equations started getting unintuitive, In Search of Schrödinger's Cat explains quantum physics in a way that's not only clear, but also enjoyable.

Gribbin opens with the subjects that most physics professors have just started to examine at the end of the semester: The mysterious character of light, the valence concept in Nils Bohr's atomic model, radioactive decay, and the physics of life-defining DNA all get clear, comprehensive, and witty coverage. This book reveals the beauty and mystery that underlies everything in the universe.

Does this book claim to explain quantum physics without math? No. Math is too central to physics to be bypassed. But if you can do basic algebra, you can understand the equations in In Search of Schrödinger's Cat. Gribbin is the physics teacher everyone should have in high school or college: kind without being a pushover, knowledgeable without being condescending, and clearly expressive without being boring. Gribbin's book belongs on the shelf of every pre-calculus student. It also deserves a place in the library of everyone who was scared away from advanced physics prematurely.


"A gripping account of the history of quantum mechanics and a clear description of its significance - and weirdness. Absolutely fascinating" -- Isaac Asimov "Precise yet mysterious... as beautiful as a poem and as exciting as a novel" The Sunday Times "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it" -- Niels Bohr --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Books (August 1, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553342533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553341034
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
124 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, liberating, refreshing July 31, 2004
1. Good narrative style - you won't be bored.

2. Not complicated... not trivial or overly diluted either. High school Math, and Science will suffice for understanding. You'll derive more on a second read though.

3. I like how he weaves history into science and adds personality to the characters way beyond anything you'll find in a textbook. One reader said he wanted just the facts and could do without the extras. I think it's the extras that make this book appealing, approachable and engaging. If you want just facts, get a college textbook.

4. Not too long... he spends just about the right length of time on each topic.

5. He revisits topics to shed extra light at appropriate times... he doesn't try to hammer in everything into your head all at once.

6. Gives credit to respective scientists, including stating who won what Nobel prize when. This is good as otherwise these people and their achievements would be largely unknown by people who are not academics, such as some of the readers of this book.

7. Gives an excellent sense of perspective of how things were developed or arrived at. You really appreciate that it is by collaboration and assistance that a lot has been developed. Previous to this work I hadn't heard of Dirac... everybody knows Einstein. I heard of Bohr, Rutherford, and Planck at school. But there really are other greats of the era: Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli and Shrodinger for example.

8. Extremely well-researched and woven together.

9. Great to find out the simple origins of anti-matter. (pages 124, and 125)

10. Great to see how many things we take for granted have been derived from Quantum Mechanics...
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read on an extraordinary topic February 6, 2000
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book that deals with a rather fascinating subject: quantum mecahnics. For those who may not be familiar w/QM, it is the physics of the microcosmic world of electrons, photons, protons & neutrons. It is where Newtonian causality breaks down, where there appears a "totally new ballgame." Gribbin does an excellent job of writing for the layman, especially considering the recondite nature of the topic. However, I would recommend anyone interested in QM to read Alice In Quantumland by Robert Gilmore first as it is slightly more accessible & also has the advantage of being "fun" to read (it is told as an allegorized story). Note that I still recommend Gribbin's book, but AFTER one has read Gilmore's. It may help to make Gribbin's book make a bit more sense. All in all, though, this is an enlightening work.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Through the rabbit hole with John Gribbin. October 11, 2007
I wrote this review before reading the sequel to this book (Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality). After reading the sequel I have an additional comment, which is included at the end of the review.

This book rests somewhere between being a history book and a popular science physics text that focuses on the underlying implications of quantum theory. It introduces the history of the development of quantum mechanics and develops this physics in a general, non-mathematical, manner. In my opinion, Gribbin does a fine job in both areas. The book is very readable and very informative. It begins with the particle/wave nature of light and how attempts to explain this paradox formed the basis of modern scientific thought. From this, Gribbin introduces the notion that matter (initially electrons) also exhibit wave as well as particle characteristics. This is then used to describe Bohr's initial attempts at describing the nature of the atom. Gribbin shows how the Heisenberg uncertainty principle grew naturally out of attempts to explain the nature of an atom, as depicted by the splitting of spectral lines. The uncertainty principle is often incorrectly depicted as just an adjunct to quantum theory, not as its central idea. Gribbin shows that it is intimately tied up with the particle/wave paradox and that it is not (as it is often portrayed) just an experimental limitation. (He also shows that Heisenberg himself is responsible for this misconception because he used this analogy to try to explain the concept.)

The hardcover version of this book was published in 1984, so one could justly question reading a book that is over 20 years old.
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124 of 154 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but unfortunately goes off the deep end August 22, 2001
John Gribbin obviously has a real enthusiasm for the subject matter, and it makes this book very readable in spite of the often bewildering complexity of the subject matter (which he explains admirably without use of mathematics). The coverage of the history of quantum theory in the first half of the 20th century is excellent, and made me want to read more about it.
Where Gribbin goes wrong, in my view, is in railroading his point "Nothing is real" (a thesis which seems to bookend the whole thing). I know I'll get "not helpful" points for pointing this out, but the quite obvious fact that Gribbin chooses to ignore is that subatomic particles, when collected as aggregates into everyday objects like a wallet or a pen, end up statistically combining to behave in predictable ways; if I leave it in a room and come back several hours later, it's still there unless somebody disturbs it, and I can be absolutely assured it was there in the intervening period--what could be plainer? In other words, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, yes, of course it makes a sound. But an electron or photon? Who's to say? The fact that such intractable weirdness in the quantum realm as Gribbin describes ends up getting together to form what we know as matter, is indeed a mystery worth contemplating. It makes me think of the realm of matter as if it were inside some kind of holodeck like in Star Trek, and when we look deep into matter itself we find that it's put together in some way inconceivable to us, and yet seemingly expressly for the purpose of creating the "macro" world in which we live. This idea is consistent with the Anthropic Principle, that has nudged so many scientists in the direction of theism. But 'nothing is real'? Then how can one make any meaningful statements, including the statement of universal unreality?! Come, now...
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
An excellent left brained explanation of how the universe works!
Published 13 days ago by Celeste Elliott
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on the emergence of quantum physics
If you have the personality type such that you like science. (You know who you are.) And I mean actual science, not new age pseudoscience, then I dare say that this is the best... Read more
Published 14 days ago by Mr. Serpent
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended for Quantum quandries.
Excellent discussion of Quantum Mechs and its history, by one of my favorite science writers.
Highly recommend. ALSO, excellent sequel : Schrodinger's Kittens. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Joshua Koenig
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for those new to quantum physics
One of the best books I've read. It takes you through the history of quantum physics, explaining different ideas as they come up over the years. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Smiljana
5.0 out of 5 stars I like Quantum Physics, now!
I've never thought much about Quantum Physics before I became an adult and went back to school. But for all you out there who were not naturally scholastic, this is a fun book.
Published 7 months ago by J
5.0 out of 5 stars Gribben is Gripping as the Cat Springs Lithely out of the Quantum Box
I have the Black Swan edition from 1991 and can't believe that it's been 22 years since I first read this book. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Etienne Jackson
5.0 out of 5 stars What you need to know about basic quantum mechanics
clearly and lucidly written. Space brought down to a level to you can understand and you're not being talked down to. John is amazing author who is always a joy to read
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so in-depth discussion on the search of reality
It is a quite comprehensive to introduce the classic quantum mechanic. However, the core of the Copenhegan interpretation is not detailed for the non-scientific readers. Read more
Published 9 months ago by LEUNG K.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best ever.
If you know anything at all about science you should read this book. If you don't know anything at all about science you MUST read this book!
Published 11 months ago by Nora Wolthers
5.0 out of 5 stars a great one
read it years ago along with many other Gribbon and other physics books. Have given this one away several times . It's a classic, no question.
Published 11 months ago by savvy
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