- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 24, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691125759
- ISBN-13: 978-0691125756
- Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (207 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,774 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
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From Library Journal
This volume, constituting the printed version of the first of the Alix G. Mautner Memorial Lectures to be given periodically at UCLA, certainly gets this new series off to a flying start. World-renowned for the liveliness and creativity of his physical insights, Caltech physicist Feynman provides another of his tours de force as he clearly explains the arcane workings of quantum electrodynamics, a theory which Feynman himself helped to establish. Starting with such familiar phenomena as the reflection and refraction of light, Feynman goes on to describe in detail the interactions between electrons and light. Although the text requires more concentration to grasp than most science popularizations, things never get out of hand. A good choice for collections serving informed readers. Thomas E. Margrave, formerly with Physics & Astronomy Dept., Univ. of Montana, Missoula
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Digital edition.
"Physics Nobelist Feynman simply cannot help being original. In this quirky, fascinating book, he explains to laymen the quantum theory of light, a theory to which he made decisive contributions."--The New Yorker
"Feynman's lectures must have been marvelous and they have been turned into an equally entrancing book, a vivid introduction to QED which is leavened and enlivened by his wit. Anyone with a curiosity about physics today should buy it, not only to get to grips with the deepest meaning of quantum theory but to possess a slice of history."--Pedro Waloschek, Nature
Praise for Princeton's original edition: "Feynman simply cannot help being original. In this quirky, fascinating book, he explains to laymen the quantum theory of light."--New Yorker
Praise for Princeton's original edition:"[A]nother tour de force by the acknowledged master of clear explanation in physics."--John Roche, Times Literary Supplement
Praise for Princeton's original edition:"Feynman's lectures must have been marvellous and they have been turned into an equally entrancing book, a vivid introduction to QED which is leavened and enlivened by his wit. Anyone with a curiosity about physics today should buy it, not only to get to grips with the deepest meaning of quantum theory but to possess a slice of history."--Pedro Waloschek, Nature
Praise for Princeton's original edition: "In four conversational and breezy chapters. . . . Feynman, who himself gave the theory its most useful and powerful form, undertakes without one equation to explain QED to the generality of readers."--Philip Morrison, Scientific American
"Using clear language, many visuals, and his own Feynman diagrams, the author presents a clear introduction to the quantum theory of the inter-action of light with matter, without mathematics but with humor."--Physics Teacher
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Top customer reviews
Feynman is that unique and rare breed of scientist who can successfully explain very complicated ideas in simple terms so non-scientists (or scientists not in his field) can understand. He uses his own brand of metaphors and analogies to clarify quantum mechanics, and QED is the perfect example of that.
In just four lectures (delivered, incidentally, at my alma mater UCLA in the 1980's), Feynman distills the essence of Quantum Electrodynamics without assuming any prior math or physics background in his audience. He doesn't use any calculus, any abstract algebra, heck he doesn't even mention complex numbers once! Incredible! QED has been hailed as the most precise scientific theory ever constructed because its predictions have been confirmed by so many experiments throughout the last half of 20th century. It reconciles the many discrepancies between the 'classical' version of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics and successfully explains many other anomalies seen in nature. Feynman shared the Nobel in physics (with Schwinger and Tomonaga) for playing a key role in developing the theory.
Using simple arrows and basic operations like 'shrinking' and 'turning' arrows, Feynman explains phenomena such as reflection by mirror, partial reflection by glass, absorption by opaque materials, the apparent slowing of light as it goes through water and other media etc. All through the lectures he maintains a light tone and makes several self-deprecating jokes about the way physicists name things (he reserves particular scorn and derision for the naming of quarks).
As a medical/graduate student in neuroscience but with some math and physics background (but not enough to actually understand renormalization and gauge theories), I really appreciated Feynman's ability to explain QED so effectively without ever sounding condescending (which a lot of physicists are unfortunately too prone to do).
This your chance to read one of 20th century's most influential physicist break down one of the most fundamental theories of physics with great style and elegance.
In my opinion this is one of the best of Feynman's introductory physics books. He does close to the impossible by explaining the rudimentary ideas of Quantum Electro Dynamics (QED) in a manner that is reasonably accessible to those with some physics background. He explains Feynman diagrams and shows why light is partially reflected from a glass, how it is transmitted through the glass, how it interacts with the electrons in the glass and many more things. This is done via his arrows and the rules for their rotation, addition and multiplication.
One reviewer has criticized this book because Feynman does not actually show how to determine the length of the arrows (the square of which is the probability of the action being considered occurring) and the how you determine their proper rotation. True, but as is stated in Feynman's introduction, this was never the intention of the book. If you want to learn how to create the arrows used in a Feynman diagram and use them to solve even the most rudimentary problem, you have to major in physics as an undergraduate, do well enough to get into a theoretical physics graduate program and then stick with the program until the second year, when you will take elementary QED. You will then have to take even more classes before you can solve harder problems. Clearly, it is not possible to do all this in a 150-page book aimed at a general audience. He does, however, give the reader a clear indication of what these calculations are like, even if you are not actually given enough information to perform one on your own. Feynman is fair enough not to hide the difficulties involved in actually computing things. He briefly discusses the process of renormalization (that he admits is not mathematically legitimate), which is required to get answers that agreed with experimental data and the difficulties in determining the coupling constants that are also required. In the end, he admits that there is no mathematically rigorous support for QED. Its virtue lies in the fact that it provides the correct answers, even if the approach to getting them involve a bit of hocus-pocus (again his words).
The last 20 pages of the book show how the approaches used in QED, as strange as they are, were used to create an analogous approach for determining what goes on in the nucleus of an atom. This short section shows complexity of nuclear physics and the role that QED has played in trying to unify a baffling plethora of experimental data. Unfortunately, this last section is largely out of date and is hopelessly complicated. Fortunately, it is only 20 pages long.
As mentioned in the beginning of this review, you should read Zee's introduction as well as Feynman's, before you get into the rest of the book. Zee puts QED into proper perspective. Along with wave and matrix mechanics, the Dirac-Feynman path integral method that is described in this book is another approach to quantum mechanics. Zee also points out that while it is a very powerful approach for many problems, it is unworkable for others that are easily solved by wave or matrix mechanics. Feynman's introduction is very important because he emphatically states that photons and electrons are particles and that the idea of their also being waves stems from the idea that many features of their behavior could be explained by assuming that they were waves. He shows that you can explain these effects using QED, without having to assume that they are waves. This eliminates the many paradoxes that are created when one assumes that photons and electrons exhibit dual, wave/particle behavior. QED is not, however, without its own complications. Some of this behavior depends upon the frequency of the photon or electron. Frequency is generally thought of as a wave property, but it can also be thought of a just a parameter that defined the energy of the photon or electron. This is a fundamental idea separating QED from wave based quantum theories. Feynman does not try to speculate why photons and electrons obey the rules of QED because he does not know why, nor does anyone else and we probably are incapable of knowing why. He is completely satisfied that his calculations agree with experimental data to a degree that is unsurpassed by any other theoretical physics calculation.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in getting an idea of what QED is all about and to those who seek a deeper understanding of physical phenomena. You will learn how QED explains many things, some of which from the basis for the paradoxes discussed at length in books such as "In search of Schrodinger's cat". Reading this book is a good antidote for the head spinning paradoxes described in that book. Feynman believes that they stem from using a poor analogy (that of waves) to explain the behavior of particles. As far as the deeper questions of why photons and electrons obey the ruled of QED, he does not care, so long as he can get the right answer. This may therefore not be the book for you if you are interested in this deepest WHY, but it definitely is if you want to know more about Feynman's powerful approach to quantum mechanics.