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3.7 out of 5 stars
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Quantum Leaps
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on December 10, 2017
Interesting book -- timely delivery
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on January 17, 2011
I would call it a typical Bernstein book: well written, good grasp of the subject and interspersed with personal annecdotes and encounters with the men who made it. Digression into the methaphysical aspects of quantum physics do not make it the best book Bernstein has ever written. I largely agree with all(!) previous written comments. Why then write another one? Because I cannot refrain at poking fun with Bernstein's own remarks....

In the Notes section of the book, he writes (p.208): "For a very interesting account of Bohm in Brazil, [... some text deleted ...] See also F. David Pate's biography of Bohm, Infinite Potential: The Life And Times Of David Bohm(New York: Basic Basic Book, 1997). The reader should be aware that this book contains many mistakes of detail. For example, Pate claims that Bohm and Richard Feynman were both graduate students of Oppenheimer's. Feynman was in fact a student of John Wheeler at Princeton. Allen Shenstone has become Allen Shelstone, Stirling A. Colgate is referred to as Stephen A. Colgate, etc., etc."

Sorry Jeremy, but Pate should be Peat.
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Very few physicists have emphasized the human side of physics as well as Jeremy Bernstein. A veteran physicist and writer who has known many famous physicists of the twentieth century, Bernstein has penned highly readable portraits of Oppenheimer, Bethe and Einstein among others and has written books about nuclear weapons, quants on Wall Street, Bell Laboratories and the German atomic bomb project. In this book he explores the several ramifications of the strange proliferation of concepts from quantum mechanics into popular culture, theater, art, philosophy and cinema. Perhaps this proliferation is not surprising considering the bizarre implications of the actual meaning of quantum theory, but as Bernstein indicates, non-physicists have extended the reach of quantum concepts far beyond what the scientific creators of the theory would have intended.

Bernstein takes us through a diverse variety of topics and characters. He describes the Dalai Lama's writings in which he draws parallels between Buddhism and quantum theory, and this gives him an opportunity to talk about two central characters in the book, physicists John Bell and David Bohm who the Dalai Lama knew and who played crucial roles in the development of the interpretative parts of the discipline. Bernstein describes the famous conflict between Einstein and Bohr about the meaning of quantum theory and explains Bell's groundbreaking contributions that argued against Einstein's belief that quantum mechanics might be governed by some kind of "hidden variables" which we have to discover; Bell showed that any such hidden variable theory would have to involve superluminal communication and would be at odds with the theory of relativity. Later many remarkably precise experiments verified Bell's ideas, and Bell would almost certainly have received a Nobel Prize had he not died untimely of a stroke.

Bernstein also discusses the extension of quantum theory into non-scientific realms and describes the plays of the playwright Tom Stoppard (writer of "Hapgood" and "Arcadia"), who seems to have incorporated some concepts into his writing. Along the way Bernstein discusses the famous double slit experiment of quantum theory (best discussed in the Feynman Lectures on Physics) which inspired Stoppard and other writers including Princeton philosopher Rebecca Goldstein (author of "Incompleteness", a fascinating book about Kurt Godel) whose work Bernstein also describes. Bernstein also uses these narrative threads to talk about his own background at Harvard and Princeton where he came in contact with many of the key figures in the development of quantum physics. He has a clear and readable discussion of Bell's theorem and its background.

The last chapters in Bernstein's book talk about New Age-type expositions of quantum theory discussed by writers like Gary Zhukov and Fritjof Capra who seemingly find many parallels between the philosophical parts of the discipline and Eastern philosophy and mysticism. Bernstein is admittedly not very impressed with these interpretations as many of them sound rather fuzzy and devoid of concrete meaning. Perhaps Bernstein should have also taken a well-deserved jab at the New Age guru Deepak Chopra, whose use of quantum concepts seems to have been divined from thin air.

Readers might be forgiven for Bernstein's digressions which usually constitute a common part of his writings. For instance his first chapter is about his encounter with poet W H Auden and the philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr which seems to have little bearing on the rest of the book. A chapter on Niels Bohr's protege, the physicist Leon Rosenfeld, suddenly digresses into how quantum mechanics came in conflict with Soviet Marxism and dialectical materialism, and how Soviet physicists struggled to reconcile physics with their political ideology. A lot of this has to do with Bernstein's own background and it usually makes for interesting reading, but as in some of his other books, one cannot help shake off the feeling that Bernstein is trying to pack too much into the book and jumping from one topic to another with alacrity. However, I personally enjoy such digressions, and while some others may not, there is still enough interesting material in this slim book to keep most readers with a variety of interests hooked.
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on November 27, 2009
This is a personal walk through the early days of the Quantum Physics pioneers, so for those interested in the history of QP it is interesting but for those of us trying to grasp the incredible implications of QP, it is dry going.
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on November 4, 2013
Endowed with a rich writing tone, Jeremy Bernstein takes the reader on a ride to existentialism. The work is as much a scientific reflection as it is a book of mysticism. Jeremy Bernstein sees the world, from the vantage point of Quantum Theory, through the eyes of those whose research evoke such images as the CERN Collider (See my review, Collider by Paul Halpern.) and the Dalai Lama. He quotes big names extracting colossal ideas, leaving the reader with a larger number of questions than when he started.

The elusive titles of his chapters stimulate the imagination to surrender its doodles, which, in turn, take us to the exhilarating edge of original thinking. The author gives us a sense of the origins and ongoing debates that Quantum Mechanics has stirred in the Twentieth Century.

Be prepared to reflect often on the issues raised in this volume and the possibility that you will reread the book.
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on November 27, 2009
If one had to identify the basic theme of this book, one could say that it deals with the thoughts of people from varying backgrounds/professions on quantum theory and its implications. The author takes "quantum leaps" from one quantum sub-topic to another, all centering on these people's views on quantum theory: playwrights, authors (of novels, of new age books, etc.), artists, religious leaders (e.g., Dalai Lama), as well as the views of eminent physicists. The scientific explanations that are given throughout are generally quite clear, often including useful analogies. But, despite the fact that the book contains several discussions on various quantum phenomena, someone wanting to learn the basics of quantum theory should really look elsewhere. In addition to the science, the book also contains a fascinating agglomeration of snippets from the life of the author, including his interactions with some of the greatest luminaries in this field, as well as others. The writing style is clear, friendly, authoritative, relatively accessible and often quite captivating. Although anyone can read this book and learn quite a bit, it would likely be enjoyed the most by science buffs, especially those with a physics background, as well as those interested in the history of science.
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on March 22, 2010
Given the background and experience this author brings to the field I expected this book to be much better than it is. Mr. Bernstein is an excellent writer and is usually able to tell a good science story because he has studied the subject as it should be studied and has known so many of the personalities that have made up this story of the quantum. But he carelessly explains Bell's inequality and Aspects experiments. I would dismiss the book for this failure, except that no other author has been able to do any better. (I am still in search of the book that can do the job) i agree with the author's viewpoint entirely regarding those who have taken quantum mechanics into the pseudo-"spiritual" realm, co-opted the language and tried to make a quick buck off of the murky aspects of the theory. But this book leaves the subject unexplained and therefore leaves the phony quantum spiritualists to ply their trade. I think that Bernstein may have been one of the few author's with the ability to clear this up, but I don't think he really tried. There are some memorable quotations from the original papers by Bohr to Bohm that will be used I am sure by more serious books.
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on January 2, 2010
The editing on this book is so astonishingly bad that you can find the same sentence repeated almost word for word on the same page. There's a lot of name-dropping going on here involving people who used to be famous 50 years ago but very little that is enlightening about science. I would skip it.
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