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Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction [Paperback]

John Polkinghorne
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 15, 2002 0192802526 978-0192802521 1st
Quantum Theory is the most revolutionary discovery in physics since Newton. This book gives a lucid, exciting, and accessible account of the surprising and counterintuitive ideas that shape our understanding of the sub-atomic world. It does not disguise the problems of interpretation that still remain unsettled 75 years after the initial discoveries. The main text makes no use of equations, but there is a Mathematical Appendix for those desiring stronger fare. Uncertainty, probabilistic physics, complementarity, the problematic character of measurement, and decoherence are among the many topics discussed. This volume offers the reader access to one of the greatest discoveries in the history of physics and one of the outstanding intellectual achievements of the twentieth century.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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Editorial Reviews


`John Polkinghorne has brought to life that most mysterious and perplexing of revolutions in understanding and has made its mysteries accessible.' Peter Atkins, University of Oxford

`John Polkinghorne has produced an excellent piece of work. ... Many authors of "popular" books on modern physics have the regrettable habit of mixing science fact with science fiction. Polkinghorne never does that: he always allows the truth to stand by itself and show its own fascination. ... I think that this is an excellent contribution to the literature on quantum theory for a general audience.' Chris Isham, Imperial College, London

`This splendid book explains both the triumph and the mystery that is quantum theory. It is a triumph because of its towering mathematical structure, and amazing empirical accuracy. It is a mystery because of the conundrums about how to interpret it. John Polkinghorne, himself a distinguished quantum physicist, is a sure guide to all of this: he celebrates the successes of the theory, and shows unfailingly good judgement about the conundrums.' Jeremy Butterfield, University of Oxford

About the Author

John Polkinghorne was from 1968 to 1979 Professor of Mathematical Physics in the University of Cambridge, and later president of Queen's College. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was knighted in 1997. His many books include The Quantum World (1986), The Faith of a Physicist (1994), and Science and Theology (1998).

Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (July 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192802526
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192802521
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 4.5 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
104 of 112 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars As best as can be expected, I guess December 13, 2002
By A Customer
This book does its best, but in the end suffers from something that I think is inherent in the material itself. I did learn a little more about quantum theory from this book, but not much more than I already knew to begin with. And this book didn't really make many of the main concepts any clearer. I don't think is the author's fault, I think it's almost impossible to try to explain these things. Most of the problem, (and similar statements go for cosmology, cryptography, etc.) is that it's almost impossible to explain concepts whose fundamental expression is mathematical language without using mathematics. What inevitably results is some kind of vague, touchy-feely idea of what's meant, but little understanding. And I say this as a mathematician.
To give just one example, at one point in the book, the author talks about "probability amplitudes", for several pages. The only problem is, he never says what this term is supposed to mean, but he does mention that complex numbers are involved, and other facts. The result after this happens several times is that the reader starts to read entire paragraphs consisting of terminology that's never been defined clearly. The word "operator" is the best example here. It's fine to talk ABOUT operators in indirect, oblique language, but really you don't have a true understanding of what that word means unless you know its precise mathematical definition, or unless you have a clear understanding of the notion of vector space (axiomatically, not "stuff you can add together").
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
This pocket-sized, 92-page text--113 pages with appendices and index--professes to be a "very short introduction" to an understanding of quantum theory, to the unseen world that's so many millions of times smaller than even atoms.

It's not at all a bad summary of the field of quantum mechanics, written fairly lucidly, concisely, and with interest, but I'd have to say it's lacking as an introduction to the subject, in that it really does assume its readers are intelligent people with something of a science background. Do not buy this expecting it to be QUANTUM THEORY FOR DUMMIES, because it's still fairly dense and heavy, and not written as clearly or as startlingly as much of Stephen Hawking's stuff. To some readers, this assumption of their intelligence may be refreshing, and it is to a degree, but with a subject as complex and bizarre as quantum mechanics, most non-scientists will need as much help as they can get, help not necessarily to be found in here.

I do have to say, though, that this is a book worth reading, and, then, re-reading. After I read it, I went back through and looked up a few of the more major concepts--quantum entanglement, in which two particles that interact will continue to affect each other no matter how far apart they're separated; Schrödinger's Cat and the idea of a state between life and death, between here and there, between being and non-being; Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and how you can't have a knowledge of both position and momentum of a particle; et cetera--and just that brief re-reading was a huge help to me.
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37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very short, but not all that lucid December 5, 2002
This is a short book, and that is its only advantage, unfortunately.
Granted, that the author is eminent in this field and was himself a student of the great Paul Dirac. However, this book does not sit easily in a series designed to make a subject approachable to the novice. It has far too much esoteric maths than is good for a book of this genre. An ever stronger criticism is the fact that instead of keeping to basic physics ideas such as the double slit experiment (which this book does well!) and then developing the ideas of atomic structure, and the uncertainty principle, it dwells on things like operators and such like.
If you want a good introduction to Quantum Theory, look no further than the books by George Gamow's "The New World of Mr Tompkins" or "Mr Tomkins in paperback", or, "Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest".
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as introductory as it could be May 6, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In an introduction to a topic, one expects lots of figures to explain just about every topic. This book, and indeed the entire series, generally has rather few figures. The series also, generally, focuses on the historical development of the topic and not necessarily on the current understanding of the topic. Therefore, the series sacrifices a better explanation of our current understanding to explain who thought what and when. Nonetheless, this book serves adequately in the capacity of a "very short introduction."
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34 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, Concise, Scholarly, Accessible and "Real" September 26, 2002
There are few things more beautiful to me than a profound, concise, respectable and rigorous small book. The gift of knowledge and time such a book provides matches is profound. "Quantum Theory, A Very Short Introduction" achieves this beauty nicely.

Looking at the small book, and my current desire to understand the essence of the mystery of Quantum physics, I had a strange desire starting the book- I wanted it to hurt a little bit. That is to say, I wanted it to be challenging enough to reach a profound depth and truth that matched my desire to know. And I wanted it to be real- not a fanciful tour of "cool stuff" but a book so steeped in knowledge that it exposes the diamond at the center of this leviathan. I wanted to be challenged, and maybe read a page two or three times to capture the occasional key point. I wanted a book by an author so knowledgeable that he would be brave enough to tackle this goal in a 100 page book. In other words, I wanted the truth, I wanted it quickly, and, as a result, I expected to sweat. I wasn't disappointed.

This book is part of an Oxford University Press series of "Very Short Introductions". The format of the books in this series is about 100 pages, in a small paperback size. The text is fairly small, with small margins, with maybe 300 words per page. That makes each books about 30 000 words, plus of minus 25% for pictures, paragraph size and so on. And the books are written by experts with a professional level of rigor. The are a very short, deep, and real introductions. They make you sweat a little.

My dream is to read the other hundred or so publications in the series. Probably not all of them, but a significant number. I'm at about six so far.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Should be titled Quantum Theorists
The books focus more on the scientists than on the science itself.

It is understandable that the author would want to praise his heroes, and nowhere else it could be... Read more
Published 2 days ago by hitohitohito
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Insider’s Critique of the Interpretations offered by Quantum...
It is appropriate that this brief introduction was written by a unique individual, who has been both a Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University (1968-1979) and an... Read more
Published 5 days ago by H. J. Spencer PhD, DIC, BSc
3.0 out of 5 stars Less successful than most "Very Short Introduction" books, but...
The insights of quantum physics are key to many technologies we use today, and yet many people are unaware of the key discoveries made already a century ago now, being familiar... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Christopher Culver
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for those of us who are non physicist
I read this book years ago and specifically sought out an electronic version for my book collection. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Charles C. Greene
5.0 out of 5 stars Best person to explain this topic.
Quantum Theory is a complicated topic on its own... to have a very short introduction of it is just an audacious step. However Dr. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hovig
4.0 out of 5 stars Daunting
Does seem to be a very complete and fairly clear review of quantum theory. This was probably more complex than I needed but I did enjoy getting the feel of the history and the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by jkcook
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
Quantum mechanics is a difficult subject, and most college courses don't really explain how the mathematics envolved really relates to the physical phenomena. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Chris
5.0 out of 5 stars Great summary by one of the best writers on physics
Polkinghorne is an unusually clear writer on science and has a more wholistic perspective re philosophy and metaphysics than many.
Published 10 months ago by G. Baron
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and to the point
Polkinghome knows his quantum theory and can explain it as well as anyone in the science community. Short introductions to most scientific subjects can be difficult unless the... Read more
Published 11 months ago by R David Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars Received the book
Will use it when school starts at the end of August this year. I hope it will be great. Thanks.
Published 11 months ago by Therese M. Stepien
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