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The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments Hardcover – April 15, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199566844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199566846
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #570,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. "The reality of scientific endeavour is profoundly messy, often illogical, deeply emotional, and driven by the individual personalities involved...," writes Baggott, and his wonderful history of the scientists and ideas behind quantum mechanics offers ample entertaining proof. Science writer Baggott (A Beginner's Guide to Reality) tells the tumultuous story through 40 key events, beginning at the start of the 20th century, when Lord Kelvin, a British physicist, announced that scientists now knew everything about how the world worked. That triumphalism soon disappeared with Einstein's groundbreaking papers on relativity, which upended that understanding and defined the battleground that would occupy physics for the next century. Baggott hits all the usual high points, from Niels Bohr's work on atomic structure to the "uneasy alliances" and outright battles between proponents of different theories. Baggott's narrative stands out for its parallel exploration of the tenacious, all-too-human side of things: Schrödinger's unorthodox sex life and his loathing of academia; Richard Feynman's intuitive problem solving with all its "enthusiastic handwaving." The basic history behind the quantum revolution is well-known, but no one has ever told it in quite such a compellingly human and thematically seamless way. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Apr.)
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Review


"I have never come across a book quite like Jim Baggott's 'The Quantum Story.' He has done something that I would have thought impossible in a popular book. He manages to present the full ambit of the theory, starting with the introduction of the quantum--the basic unit of energy--by the German physicist Max Planck in the beginning of the 20th century, and ending with the search for the Higgs particle at the collider at CERN in Geneva. In doing this Mr. Baggott navigates successfully between the Scylla of mathematical rigor and the Charybdis of popular nonsense. He also manages to get the people right. I know this because for many of the scenes he describes I was there."--Jeremy Bernstein, The Wall Street Journal


"The history is as complex and involved as the theory itself, and Jim Baggott's history-through-vignettes approach brings out a wealth of fascinating detail about the personalities, philosophies and rivalries that guided its course...there are many good moments to be had." - New Scientist


"The basic history behind the quantum revolution is well-known, but no one has ever told it in such a compellingly human and thematically seamless way." - Publishers Weekly


"...engrossing." - Booklist


"Baggot shines...Those with a jones for physics will not be disappointed...Quantum theory may deny us the possibility of properly comprehending physical reality, but Baggott's account is smart and consoling." - Kirkus Reviews


"An accessible and informative history" - Science


"Intellectually gratifying." --The Economist



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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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I highly recommend the book for all with an interest in the subject.
Hans H. Mammen
The story of the most absurd, funny, incomprehensible theory we have, and still the most effective and powerful of all physical theories: quantum mechanics.
Temugin
This is a book well worth reading, even if you cannot follow all the physics.
bobfisch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Temugin on April 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A delicious book for anybody who loves science and especially physics. The story of the most absurd, funny, incomprehensible theory we have, and still the most effective and powerful of all physical theories: quantum mechanics. A theory that truly shows how reality is different from the common idea we have about it. The story is told in a lively and capturing way, via 40 shorts key "moments", when the theory has been glimpsed, conceived, understood, tested, questioned and applied, by an extraordinary sequence of characters from Planck and Einstein, via Feynman, until our days. Each such "moment" is a lively, very readable, very simple, very human portrait of a crucial step ahead in the modern understanding of the strange and deep structure of reality. The beauty of the book is that it concedes little or nothing to wild unproven speculations or dreams about "what the world might be". It is established physics, and still it is more strange and magic than many current fashionable speculations. At the end, one feels as having understood contemporary physics better than from a textbook or a standard popular science account. A book to be read in a night, or sip bit by bit, one short chapter after the other. A pleasure for intelligence and an extraordinary description of how science actually works.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Cat on a PC© on August 8, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This appears by all accounts a thoroughly well researched work. But, it is tough going. If you don't have a grasp of mathematics, this can, in some places, bog you down. But if you have more than just a passing interest in quantum physics, then this should not be a discouragement, as there is much in this book that can be entertaining and enlightening. Particularly if you are interested in the historical development of this area of science.

The Kindle version is well laid out with 'clickable' footnotes.

As someone who is not mathematically inclined but interested in the physical (and not so physical) make-up of our world, this has been a good find.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Kirk on June 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jim Baggott is taking on a path well travelled in this recounting of the quantum story. His mode of travel works well, concentrate on the human element, stretch the reader with the technical details and don't oversimplify.

You don't get a Guernsey telling this kind of history without really knowing your stuff, and Baggott shows that he does. For the early chapters, the explanations of quantum theory are as good as any I have read - De Broglie's dual wave-particle hypothesis, Heisenberg's matrix mechanics and Born's rationalisation of the wave function are stand-outs. The shadow of Einstein falls over all players and debate, and Baggott's explanations of the gedankenexperiments of Einstein and others enrich the story.

Baggott's rendition of the middle era of quantum theory after WWII gets a little turgid, with many layers of detail hanging a little limply without more mathematical backbone. The evolution and testing of the Standard Model was laborious in real life, so I guess the story needs to impart some of that. Again, Baggott really knows his stuff so, while this era is slow to wade through, I expect the index will provide the reader with a good reference to be reminded of an overview or context on specific points long after the back cover is closed. The modern era is well described and wide-ranging to help the reader see how topics such as string theory and supersymmetry have influenced modern quantum physics.

Baggott's writing is crisp and his insights and anecdotes are told, or retold, in a fresh style. It's a long story and worth the investment.
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41 of 49 people found the following review helpful By V. Rao on April 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Here are excerpts from Jeremy Bernstein's book review in the Wall Street Journal:

'I have never come across a book quite like Jim Baggott's "The Quantum Story." He has done something that I would have thought impossible in a popular book. He manages to present the full ambit of the theory, starting with the introduction of the quantum--the basic unit of energy--by the German physicist Max Planck in the beginning of the 20th century, and ending with the search for the Higgs particle at the collider at CERN in Geneva. In doing this Mr. Baggott navigates successfully between the Scylla of mathematical rigor and the Charybdis of popular nonsense.'

...

'I very much liked "The Quantum Story," but I have a word of caution. It is not easy to read. The problem is not the mathematics. There is almost none. The problem is that physics is hard. Quantum mechanics is hard. Like a good wine, you cannot take this book in gulps. Take it in sips. It is well worth it.'
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Pharr on July 3, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
An excellent history of quantum physics presented in 40 concise, interesting chapters--from Max Planck developing the physical constant that carries his name in 1900 to today's superstring theory and high-energy particle colliders. While the science and math are presented in a manner that is understandable for most with college-level math and physics, once the book progressed beyond the Standard Model of particle physics (chapter 29), I was only grasping the concepts. However, the history was what really interests me, and the book delivered all I expected and more. The combined cooperation and competition between some of the greatest minds of the 20th Century is fascinating, as is the interplay and interdependence between the theoretical and experimental physicists. As someone who works in software technology and has some capacity for abstract thought, I am in awe of the minds that conceived the subatomic structure of our universe.
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