- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (March 22, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199655979
- ISBN-13: 978-0199655977
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.4 x 5.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Quantum Story: A history in 40 moments Reprint Edition
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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.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
"A wonderful history of the scientists and ideas behind quantum mechanics.... 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."
"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."
--Jeremy Bernstein, The Wall Street Journal
"A delight to read. It is clear, accessible, engaging, informative, and thorough. It illuminates an important, revolutionary era of modern science and the varied personalities behind it."
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
What is in the book –
The book discusses the development of quantum mechanics from 1900 to 2010, as depicted by 40 “moments”- critical junctures in time. These 40 moments are divided into seven parts, as follows:
Part I – Quantum of Action. This part details the origin of the idea of quanta, first developed by Max Planck in 1900. It goes on to Einstein’s application of Planck’s ideas and to additional developments, up to 1925, including the work of Heisenberg, deBroglie and Schrodinger. I found this to be a very entertaining and informative part or the book as it mixes basic ideas of physics with a bit of the biographies of the men who development them. This approach is carried out throughout the book, with some biographical information accompanying the physics discussions.
Part II – Quantum Interpretations. This part of the book discusses the various interpretations of the meaning of quantum mechanics and the controversies that developed, covering the period of 1925-27.
Part III – Quantum Debate – This part of the book further amplifies the debate about the meaning of quantum mechanics during the period of 1927-47. It focuses on Einstein’s reservations and his EPR thought experiment that sought to show that quantum mechanics, as it was formulated, was incomplete.
Part IV – Quantum Fields – This part of the book, covering the period of 1947-67, focuses on the development of quantum field theory and quantum electro-dynamics. I liked the development of Feynman’s approach and how it compared to that of Schwinger and Tomonaga. It also goes into the beginnings of the development of the quark model.
Part V – Quantum Particles – This section deals with the development of the standard model, covering 1968-2003. I found this and the preceding sections to be the most difficult when they delved into the ideas of group theory. Part IV contains a good description of the relation of symmetry to basic conservation laws, but then the author jumps to group theory and then to its application to particle physics, but without explaining very much about group theory and even less about how it is applied to the problems of describing the interior of the atom and the interior of protons, neutrons and of the particles that are observed in accelerator experiments, some of which are also found in nature due to cosmic ray collisions.
Part VI – Quantum Reality – I found the discussions of Bell’s theorem and Bell’s inequality to be excellent. I learned that there are many version of the experiments meant to investigate this inequality and determine if “reality” is local or non-local, and that there are newer types of expressions of the sort that Bell developed that are being tested. This part of the book covers the period of 1951- 2006.
Part VII – Quantum Cosmology – This part of the book deals with quantum mechanics, its application to cosmology (especially through the work of Hawking) and to attempts to develop a theory that encompasses both gravity and the standard model for particle physics. This part of the book covers these subjects from 1966-2000. There is also a brief epilogue that discusses the search for the Higgs particle up to 2010.
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.
The second half wasn't as compelling to me, though it was still good. It covers the rise of experimental particle physics, and how that led to our current Standard Model. The best part of the second half is the coverage of the research around Bell's inequality and how it makes "hidden variable" quantum theories untenable.
If you're really uncomfortable with math concepts, you'll struggle with some of the explanations. But if you made it through first year calculus without too much grief, you'll be fine.