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172 of 173 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enigma - QED and Feynman are Outside Normal Experience
Enigma - this term best describes QED, the notoriously non-intuitive basis of fundamental physics. But 'enigma" equally applies to this book, QED. Why is it so popular? Four lectures on quantum electrodynamics? Why would anyone, other than a physicist, rave about such a book?
Feynman cautions the audience that they may not understand what he will be saying...
Published on June 23, 2000 by Michael Wischmeyer

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmm....an ok book was expecting much more from Richard Feynman
This book is good but I was somewhat disappointed but maybe I was expecting too much from a Feynman authored book.
Still a good read
Published 4 months ago by Mark T


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172 of 173 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enigma - QED and Feynman are Outside Normal Experience, June 23, 2000
Enigma - this term best describes QED, the notoriously non-intuitive basis of fundamental physics. But 'enigma" equally applies to this book, QED. Why is it so popular? Four lectures on quantum electrodynamics? Why would anyone, other than a physicist, rave about such a book?
Feynman cautions the audience that they may not understand what he will be saying. Not because of technical difficulty, but because they may be unable to believe it, unable to accept what he is saying. "The theory of quantum electrodynamics describes Nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it fully agrees with experiment. So I hope you can accept Nature as She is - absurd."
I long had this problem. I wanted to understand why, in addition to how nature works. I wanted some philosophical understanding, some underlying meaning. I have come to accept that the fundamental laws (rules, behavior, whatever) of physics are not intuitive, but are incomprehensible in terms of common sense.
To appreciate Feynman's QED lectures, you must have patience, some commitment (its not really difficult), but more than anything else you need a willingness to set aside disbelief and simply listen to a physicist talk about quantum electrodynamics. A willingness to accept that nature refuses to be understood. Analyzed, dissected, mathematically described (in a probabilistic sense), but not fundamentally understood. QED.
I am largely unsatisfied by books for laymen on quantum physics, string theory, cosmology, and the like. My background includes some physics and I find that a bit of mathematics is more helpful than a great many analogies, no matter how cleverly constructed. QED should have been disappointing. But I gave it five stars.
Feynman did not rely on analogies. He talks physics and experiments. Feynman had a wonderful clarity of thought, an ability to explain advanced physics, and all with a sense of humor. No math symbols, no complex numbers, no matrices, no wave mechanics, no advanced probability analysis - just simple addition of little arrows that shrink and turn.
Feynman was unpredictable. He saw the world in unexpected ways. In a footnote he mentions that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is really no longer a necessary construct. "If you can get rid of all the old-fashioned ideas and instead use the ideas that I am explaining in these lectures - adding arrows for all the ways an event can happen - there is no need for an uncertainty principle." Heisenberg relegated to a footnote!
The casual reader may find some short sections a bit strenuous, particularly some of the more involved manipulations of arrows, but stay with it. As Feynman points out in the preface, these lectures represent physics accurately without distortions for simplicity. Nothing would need to be unlearned if you later majored in physics. Think about it. QED may lead you down a path heretofore not taken.
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75 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Informative, March 6, 2002
A book on physics that is entertaining? Hard to believe, but during the reading of this book I not only got a grasp on some of the fundamental concepts of Quantum Electro Dynamics, but thoroughly enjoyed the way it was explained. Feynman is a master teacher. He has the ability to take complex concepts and boil them down so that even a physics dummy can understand them. It is obvious when reading the text how complete Feynman's understanding of the material is. You know how you can read a science book and not really get what the author is trying to explain? Sometimes that comes from your own lack of intelligence, but a lot of times it's because the author wasn't totally clear about what he was writing. In this book, you really get the underlying concepts becasue Feynman's understanding of the subject is so complete. I found myself absorbing some of the QED concepts almost by osmosis.
The book is composed of 4 lectures Feynman gave at UCLA in the mid 80's.
QED is about the interaction of light and matter. Feynman starts the explanation of QED by dealing with the partial reflection of light onto 2 surfaces of glass, and uses arrow diagrams to make the explanation easy to understand.
He uses the arrow diagrams in the other lectures which continue the discussion of QED's attempt to explain the interaction of photons with matter. The last lecture deals with subatomic particles and QED's relationship to the rest of physics.
The part of the book I enjoyed most was the 3rd lecture called "Electrons and Their Interactions" which explains how electrons go from point to point in space/time. He gets into the famous "Feynman Diagrams" showing how electrons and photons seem to travel backwards in time, and how photons can go faster or slower than the conventional speed of light. It's fascinating!
What's great about these lectures is their clarity and humor. The author doesn't take himself too seriously and as a result the book is a delight to read, as well as being enlightening.
Kudo's as well to the editor who distilled the material down to a manageable length of 152 pages.
Can a book on Quantum Electro Dynamics be really fun to read? This one is.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars QED is masterfully written by an American Genius, October 26, 2000
By 
Aspen Logic, Inc. (Broomfield, CO USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Hardcover)
QED is your guide to the theory of Quantum Electro Dynamics which explains the interaction of light and matter. It is about a 1/4" thick and feels like it was written for the layperson to absorb without being over taxing. It isn't just another "popular science" type book because it provides an accurate explanation of the theory without being watered down by inaccurate metaphors and analogies meant to soften some difficult physics for the uninitiated. The text is a series of lectures Feynman prepared for an english teach friend of his who wanted to know about his theories but was afraid to ask (so to speak).
This book is fun to read and I highly recommend it for the scientist or (most importantly) the non-scientist on your gift list. Fear not, Feynman is the greatest teacher of science America has ever had to offer (imho). You will enjoy this and quite likely a few of his other books such as, "Surely, Your'e Joking Mr. Feynman".
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elementary expostion, NOT popular science, August 23, 2001
By 
"amit_princeton" (Princeton, NJ, USA) - See all my reviews
Here's a book that shows, clearly, that explaining science to a lay audience is something altogether different from "popular science". This book will not teach you buzzwords and catchphrases with which to impress your next non-physicist audience. It will not help you wow the crowds with your knowledge of "philosophical" issues of science.
What this book will do for you is give you a fascinating, lucid and yet elementary introduction to the theory of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), as told by one of the Nobel laureates whose mind it sprang from. It amazes me how much ground Feynman managed to cover in just four lectures, without assuming ANY foreknowledge of higher mathematics or physics (not even complex numbers, which are central to QED).
Every scientist who deems his work too esoteric to be digested by laymen should be made to read this. Everyone else: get this book and be prepared to learn some amazing and intuition-confounding facts about physics.
[For the record: I'm a mathematician and computer scientist, not a physicist.]
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple, straightforward and very deep., January 13, 2000
This book is an excellent discussion of the form and meaning of Quantum Electrodynamics. The book is written for the intelligent non-physicist and explains QED very clearly, covering both the incredible accuracy (e.g. computations good to 10+ decimal places) and the strange concepts (e.g. that a particle travelling from point A to point B takes all possible paths simultaneously, in some sense) that make up this fundamental area of physics.
As usual, Feynman is lucid, entertaining and interesting. A wonderful book.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The shortest, clearest and "most physical" description of quantum theory without compromise in the accuracy, January 20, 2006
I had read a few books on quantium physics before, some are serious textbooks, and some are books for general readers, without even a single equation. This book, catagorized as the latter case, is the shortest, clearest and "most physical" description I've ever read.

It really tells you what the physicsts are doing behind the equations. I felt I solved many of the puzzles I had before, especially the intuitive meaning of the wave function and how the amplitudes really combine "visually".

It's a must read if you have tried other books on quantum theory but get confused (which I think is very likely). One major difference of this book from other books is Feynman didn't try to invent analogous but confusing things to explain difficult concepts. He really introduces you the subject itself.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Feynman Diagrams examined by their creator, May 28, 2000
By 
These tapes present a live delightful explanation of "Feynman Diagrams" in lay terms. A valued addition to any library but the audio is often atrocious with loud static, other times the audio fades in & out. One tape repeats several minutes.
It appears that the tape producers made ZERO effort to clean up the audio, which is criminal considering the raw value of the material they were entrusted with. While I don't regret my purchase, I strongly object to the absence of even a sophomoric attempt to edit the tapes to enhance their compromised quality.
Feynman gets his usual "A+" while the tape producers should be exiled to an obscure island absent food or water.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Introduction to Understanding the Incomprehensible, January 24, 2001
By 
Newt Gingrich (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
("THE")   
This is the easy, highly simplified introduction to quantumbehavior - and after reading it I still do not understand more than70% of the simplified version! Feynman was both a great physicist anda great communicator, but the subject is both important andperplexingly obscure. This book is based on the Alex G. MautnerMemorial Lectures given at UCLA.
Quantum behavior will matter to the21st century the way the steam engine mattered to the 18th and 19thcenturies, the way the internal combustion engine mattered to thefirst two-thirds of the twentieth century, and the way computers andtransistors have mattered to the last third of the twentieth. Tounderstand Quantum behavior you first have to understand themeasurements and scales involved. One billionth of a meter is a"nanometer." It is how we measure things at the level ofmolecules and atoms. Quantum behavior is what starts happening innano-scale behavior below about 50 nanometers. The rules of physicssuddenly change at this level, and the way you and I were taught thatthe world works is suddenly replaced by very different rules.
AsFeynman said "my main purpose in these lectures is to describe asaccurately as I can the strange theory of light and matter--morespecifically the interaction of light and electrons." Feynman isclear that the theory works in that it accurately predicts outcomes,but that we do not really understand what is happening or how thoseoutcomes are arrived at. In his words: "What I am going to tellyou about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourthyear of graduate school ... No, you're not going to be able tounderstand it. Why, then, am I going to bother you with all this? Whyare you going to sit here all this time, when you won't be able tounderstand what I am going to say? It is my task to convince you notto turn away because you don't understand it. You see, my physicsstudents don't understand it either. That is because I don'tunderstand it. Nobody does."
Feynman goes on to explain whyquantum behavior is so hard to accept: "I'm going to describe toyou how Nature is--and if you don't like it, that's going to get inthe way of your understanding it. It's a problem that physicists havelearned to deal with. They've learned to realize that whether theylike a theory or they don't like a theory is not the essentialquestion. Rather, it is whether or not the theory gives predictionsthat agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theoryis philosophically delightful or easy to understand, or perfectlyreasonable from the point of view of common sense. The theory ofquantum electrodynamics describes Nature as absurd from the point ofview of common sense. And it agrees fully with the experiment. So Ihope you can accept Nature as She is--absurd." Despite itsdifficulty and remarkable characteristics Feynman asserts that Quantumelectrodynamics is important to all of life. Consider: "Most ofthe phenomena you are familiar with involve the interaction of lightand electrons--all of chemistry and biology for example. The onlyphenomena that are not covered by this theory are phenomena ofgravitation and nuclear phenomena; everything else is contained inthis theory."
"The more you see how strangely Naturebehaves, the harder it is to make a model that explains how even thesimplest phenomena actually work" is a Feynman observation thatgoes to the heart of our current situation. In traditional areas ofscience we are making rapid progress and some people think we are evenclose to the end of the scientific era or in a mature state. Yet inmany areas of science we are just beginning to understand thequestions and do not have a clue as to the answers. For example, 80%of the universe is dark matter and we currently know nothing aboutdark matter. Feynman's book is a good introduction to the frontiersthat beckon us to a great age of discovery in the 21stcentury.
Consider the possibility that at least at very tiny levelsa kind of time travel can occur. Here is the description of figure 63(p.96) "the scattering of light involves a photon going into anelectron and a photon coming out--not necessarily in that order, asseen in example b. The example in c shows a strange but realpossibility; the electron emits a photon, rushes backwards in time toabsorb a photon, and then continues forward in time." Rememberthis is a great physicist lecturing a sophisticated general audienceabout the cutting edge of knowledge. There is much in this onedescription to think about. Feynman goes further on this topic:"This phenomenon is general. Every particle in Nature has anamplitude to move backwards in time, and therefore has ananti-particle."
Feynman's argument is that quantum behavior istruly outside the Newtonian principles of classical physics andcontradicts our understanding of the world as we experience it at ourlarge, bulky level. "Throughout these lectures I have delightedin showing you that the price of gaining such an accurate theory hasbeen the erosion of our common sense. We must accept some very bizarrebehavior...light traveling in paths other than a straight line,photons going faster or slower than the conventional speed of light,electrons going backwards in time...That we must do, in order toappreciate what Nature is really doing underneath nearly all thephenomena we see in the world."
This is a challenging but veryimportant book about a topic which will have enormous implications forour century but which remarkably few public minded citizens have paidany attention to. I strongly recommend it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quantum Physics Less All the Math, August 28, 2000
Richard Feynman stands out from other physicists in his witty ability to explain physical phenomenons in a simplistic way. Quantum physics (or quantum theory) is by far the most fascinating yet the most perplexing subject ever studied in recent-to-present history. I was lucky to have come acorss Feynman's "QED" while I was taking undergraduate quantum physics. Feynman adroitly explains the path of an electron without discussing vectoral analysis. He clearly conveys the ideas behind quantum theory by translating the obscure mathematical notations and manipulations into plain language understood by readers who are not in the science field.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whew! Worth the effort..., December 22, 2005
By 
Dennis Mitton "tolstoy" (Seattleite in South Carolina, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Feynman believed that if you truly understand a concept than you should be able to express it in a way that any educated person can understand it. Thus you have a smallish book (based on lectures) on some of the most obtuse subjects in physics in a way that is entertaining, readable, and understandable.

This is no "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" (if you haven't read it you should...) but still shows his wit and curiosity. One reason I think the book is so good is that he was instrumental in working out many of the ideas he presents so he's not just repeating someone else's work.

The concepts can be hard to grasp but the book is well worth the trouble.
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QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman (Hardcover - January 1, 1986)
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