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Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

48 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0192802521
ISBN-10: 0192802526
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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).


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; 1st edition (July 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192802526
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192802521
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.2 x 4.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #208,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

119 of 129 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
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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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Mike Smith on January 7, 2008
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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39 of 50 people found the following review helpful By James McPhate on September 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
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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