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Thirty Years that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory [Paperback]

George Gamow
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1, 1985 048624895X 978-0486248950 Reprint

"Dr. Gamow, physicist and gifted writer, has sketched an intriguing portrait of the scientists and clashing ideas that made the quantum revolution." — Christian Science Monitor
In 1900, German physicist Max Planck postulated that light, or radiant energy, can exist only in the form of discrete packages or quanta. This profound insight, along with Einstein's equally momentous theories of relativity, completely revolutionized man's view of matter, energy, and the nature of physics itself.
In this lucid layman's introduction to quantum theory, an eminent physicist and noted popularizer of science traces the development of quantum theory from the turn of the century to about 1930 — from Planck's seminal concept (still developing) to anti-particles, mesons, and Enrico Fermi's nuclear research. Gamow was not just a spectator at the theoretical breakthroughs which fundamentally altered our view of the universe, he was an active participant who made important contributions of his own. This "insider's" vantage point lends special validity to his careful, accessible explanations of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Niels Bohr's model of the atom, the pilot waves of Louis de Broglie and other path-breaking ideas.
In addition, Gamow recounts a wealth of revealing personal anecdotes which give a warm human dimension to many giants of 20th-century physics. He ends the book with the Blegdamsvej Faust, a delightful play written in 1932 by Niels Bohr's students and colleagues to satirize the epochal developments that were revolutionizing physics. This celebrated play is available only in this volume.
Written in a clear, lively style, and enhanced by 12 photographs (including candid shots of Rutherford, Bohr, Pauli, Heisenberg, Fermi, and others), Thirty Years that Shook Physics offers both scientists and laymen a highly readable introduction to the brilliant conceptions that helped unlock many secrets of energy and matter and laid the groundwork for future discoveries.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Modern Science Made Easy
By one of the leading physicists of the twentieth century, George Gamow's One, Two, Three…Infinity is one of the most memorable popular books on physics, mathematics, and science generally ever written, famous for having, directly or indirectly, launched the academic and/or scientific careers of many young people whose first real encounter with the wonders and mysteries of mathematics and science was through reading this book as a teenager. Untypically for popular science books, this one is enhanced by the author's own delightful sketches. Reviewers were enthusiastic when One, Two, Three…Infinity was published in 1947.

In the Author's Own Words:
"If and when all the laws governing physical phenomena are finally discovered, and all the empirical constants occurring in these laws are finally expressed through the four independent basic constants, we will be able to say that physical science has reached its end, that no excitement is left in further explorations, and that all that remains to a physicist is either tedious work on minor details or the self-educational study and adoration of the magnificence of the completed system. At that stage physical science will enter from the epoch of Columbus and Magellan into the epoch of the National Geographic Magazine!" — George Gamow

Critical Acclaim for One, Two, Three…Infinity:
"This skillful presentation is for the non-professional and professional scientist. It will broaden the knowledge of each and give the imagination wide play." — Chemistry and Engineering News

"A stimulating and provocative book for the science-minded layman." — Kirkus Reviews

"This is a layman's book as readable as a historical novel, but every chapter bears the solid imprint of authoritative research." — San Francisco Chronice

"George Gamow succeeds where others fail because of his remarkable ability to combine technical accuracy, choice of material, dignity of expression, and readability." — Saturday Review of Literature

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; Reprint edition (July 1, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 048624895X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486248950
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book from the master! June 1, 2003
A reprinted Dover edition of a lovely set of biographies of the physicists of the Golden Period, from the pen of George Gamow. The original 1966 edition has been out of print for a number of years. This 1985 edition is beautifully reproduced, and it includes fascinating pictures, sketches, and poems, done by Gamow himself. He was born in Odessa, in what was then Russia, --before the Soviet Union. The story of his escape to the West is straight out of a thriller. Only it is real! Later in the US, Gamow was referred to by a journalist,--- some time during the Cold War, as "the only scientist in America with a real sense of humor". With his lovely books, we have now all come to experience how Gamow can take the most technical stuff and make it simple. Fun too! The book:--Intellectual treats, whimsy, but deep. It contains penetrating and personal biographies of Niels Bohr, Paul Ehrenfest, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, and recollections from the conferences in the 1930ties in Copenhagen, Brussels, and in the Solvay Institute. Illustrated with lovely drawings by Gamow himself. A book with pictures and conversations! Much of it can be understood by a child, and other parts might require a little concentration. All of it is great fun. The author Gamow started in nuclear physics, during the Golden Age of Physics, worked with Niels Bohr, then later in the US, on the Manhattan Project during WWII, and after the war, he was professor in Boulder Colorado. He has a building on campus named after him! The books he wrote are pearls, and they have been equally popular with my parent's generation as with mine. Luckely some have been reprinted! Other Gamow titles: Biography of Physics, Atomic Energy [dedicated to the hope of lasting peace], Physics of the Strapless Evning Gown,... Read more ›
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I've never bored a reader" February 21, 2001
Actually this is the motto of a great Italian writer, Leonardo Sciascia. But, in the domain of science, no one better than Gamow lived to it. The great Russian-born physicist, educated by Bohr, reviews the birth of quantum mechanics and its first applications as an insider, with great panache and as much accuracy as is allowed "by complementarity" (which concept, complementarity, he explains brilliantly). He did everything brilliantly. Once, studying, with the great Brazilian theorist Mario Schenberg, ways of very efficient energy dissipation needed in the stars, they proposed that the energy should flow out in the form of neutrinos. This eventually became the well-known URCA model. Gamow named it after a famous casino at Rio de Janeiro, where money dissipated very efficiently too, at the green tables.Gamow is also the originator of the Big-Bang model of the universe, which is called by many "Gamow's cosmology". A great scientist, a great writer, a great wit!
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
George Gamow's "Thirty Years That Shook Physics" is an exceptional book, an entertaining look at the physicists (including himself) that participated in the unveiling of quantum theory.
His book is enlivened by unique photos of the great physicists and mathematicians, their families and friends. We see Niels Bohr and his wife on a motorcycle, Wolfgang Pauli and George Gamow (in lederhosen) on a steamer on a Swiss Lake, Werner Heisenberg in swim trunks, Enrico Fermi playing tennis without a shirt, George Gamow and Leon Rosenfeld resting on a snow covered peak (supposedly discussing nuclear physics), and Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein chatting at a technical session in Brussels.
Many contemporary books on physics for the layman, following publisher's dictates, scrupulously avoid all mathematics. Writing in the 1960's, Gamow assumed that algebraic equations, graphs, and diagrams of experimental setups would actually help clarify explanations and not send readers fleeing in panic. Algebra is necessary; more advanced math is not. Gamow is fun to read, but be prepared to think.
It is amusing how many of the Amazon reviewers mention that they first encountered Gamow in their youth. I too read Gamow, reveling in the excitment of scientific work and discovery.
Gamow adds a bit of fun and comedy to science. We all learn (but may have forgotten) about the Pauli Exclusion Principle that only two electrons with opposite spins can occupy the same quantum orbit. Gamow also introduces us to a lessor known observation, the Pauli Effect, which states that the mere presence of Wolfgang Pauli, a theoretical physicist, near a laboratory ensured that the experimental apparatus would break.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of quantum theory: January 21, 2003
The first three decades of the twentieth century saw history's most concentrated burst of human knowledge of nature. The world described by the greatest of scientists, Isaac Newton, changed quickly to a very strange and startling world described notably by Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Pauli, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, Fermi, and a few others. George Gamow was one of these individuals. His lucent knowledge of the important ideas of the quantum theories and of the men who developed these ideas, makes for very interesting reading.
In his "Thirty Years that Shook Physics," Gamow the physicist is also found to be Gamow the artist -- his excellent drawings augment the narrative -- and Gamow the light hearted humorist. Because of the author's close friendships with Bohr and Pauli (and to a lesser extent, Dirac) the reader will meet not only the thoughts of these characters, but the characters themselves. It seems that quantum physicists like to have fun too. The book concludes with an illustrated text of a play composed and performed at the 1932 Copenhagen conference, although it can be followed it is something of an 'inside joke', if you will.
The book was written in 1965 and Gamow, noting difficulties with quantum theory, expected to see a new and equally radical revolution in physical theories before the end of the century. Although quantum theory has been hugely successful in its application, a new theory is still anticipated. [M-theory?] This book is an excellent account of the emergence of quantum theory, presented in the words of one of its principals.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Gamow's easy to read style
This book gives an excellant account of the discovery of quantum physics. The weid and subtle nature of the quantum are readily understood with this easy to read book.
Published 11 days ago by Carolyn Witherow
5.0 out of 5 stars Priceless history from one of the great scientists of the 20th century
George Gamow writes a unqiue, genuine and personal account of his time as one of the great scientists of the 20th century. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ronnie Lee
3.0 out of 5 stars Thirty Years that Shook Physics
George Gamow was a brilliant physicist who grew up with and was friends with many of the great physicists who created modern relativistic and quantum physics. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Anilao diver
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive story of quantum theory
George Gamow was one of the scientists in the great era of quantum theory. He is able to bring readers in the road to discovering the quantum theory. Read more
Published 9 months ago by LEUNG K.
5.0 out of 5 stars Gamow's "30 years that shook Physics". This is a good read for anyone...
Gamow is a Physicist who writes better than most scholars. He was there when it happened and knew most of the players personally. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Joseph B. Ennis
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Gamow Clarity of Explanation
I first read George Gamow in the 1950's when I was a college undergraduate. I was a philosophy student who was trying to take advanced physics courses. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Fred W. Hallberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Thirty years that shook physics
As the other books of g. Gamow this book success in an elegant and simple way to explain very hard subject in a way that everyone can understand.
Published 22 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Quantum Theory for the General Reader
A very readable account of the ideas and discoveries that transformed physics in the first half of the 20th century. Read more
Published on May 11, 2011 by Robert L. Meckley
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeline of Quantum Mechanics
I really enjoyed this book. It takes you on a journey of the development of Quantum Mechanics. (note: Einstein's picture is featured on the front cover, but he is not discussed in... Read more
Published on May 1, 2011 by MSE fanatic
5.0 out of 5 stars Quantum mechanics made simple
This book boils down quantum mechanics to what changed with respect to classical physics. Gamow states these changes in very simple terms. Read more
Published on December 21, 2010 by Dietrich Vedder
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