The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments

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The Quantum Story begins in 1900, tracing a century of game-changing science. Popular science writer Jim Baggott first shows how, over the space of three decades, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and others formulated and refined the theory--and opened the floodgates. Indeed, since then, a torrent of ideas has flowed from the world's leading physicists, as they explore and apply the theory's bizarre implications. To take us from the story's beginning to the present day, Baggott organizes his story around forty turning-point moments of discovery. Many of these are inextricably bound up with the characters involved--their rivalries and their collaborations, their arguments and, not least, their excitement as they sense that they are redefining what reality means. Through the mix of story and science, we experience their breathtaking leaps of theory and experiment, as they uncover such undreamed of and mind-boggling phenomenon as black holes, multiple universes, quantum entanglement, the Higgs boson, and much more. brisk, clear, and compelling, The Quantum Story is science writing at its best. A compelling look at the one-hundred-year history of quantum theory, it illuminates the idea as it reveals how generations of physicists have grappled with this monster ever since.
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  • The Quantum Story
    The Quantum Story  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"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.)
Kirkus Reviews

A shimmering tour d'horizon of quantum theory from popular-science writer Baggott (Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939–49,2009, etc.).

Quantum theory—challenging, disconcerting and heavy on math—is not going to be pinned down and dissected for lay readers without a lot of kicking and screaming. Baggott succeeds, however, imbuing the narrative with important context, his own communicable enthusiasm and the instances of dense theoretical exposition mediated by historical and biographical storytelling. His survey runs roughly chronologically, starting with Max Planck's contention that energy is composed of a definite number of equal finite packages, through Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, Feynman, Hawking et al. the author then looks at the Standard Model and the more amorphous superstring theory. Confirmed prediction is paramount in quantum theory because it works on educated guesses and implication, with only indirect evidence for the matter at hand. Here again Baggott shines, filling in the background, sometimes purely personal and sometimes entirely academic. Those with a jones for physics will not be disappointed, but the author leads readers through the dense material—if not like a seeing-eye dog, then with encouragement to look beyond his pages.

Quantum theory may deny us the possibility of properly comprehending physical reality, but Baggott's account is smart and consoling.

From the Publisher

"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."
--Publishers Weekly

"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."
--Peter Atkins

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199566846
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 348,068
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Baggott is the author of Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1949, A Beginner's Guide to Reality, and Beyond Measure: Modern Physics, Philosophy, and the Meaning of Quantum Theory, among other books.

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Table of Contents

Part I: Quantum in Action
1. An Act of Desperation: Berlin 1900
2. Independent Energy Quanta: Bern 1905
3. Quantum Numbers and Quantum Jumps: Manchester 1913
4. Wave-particle Duality: Paris 1923
5. Strangely Beautiful Interior: Helgoland 1925
6. A Late Erotic Outburst: Swiss Alps 1925
7. The Self-rotating Electron: Leiden 1925
Part II: Quantum Probability and Quantum Uncertainty
8. Quantum Probability: Gottingen 1926
9. The Whole Idea of Quantum Jumps Necessarily Leads to Nonsense: Copenhagen 1926
10. Uncertainty Principle: Copenhagen 1927
11. The Copenhagen Interpretation: Copenhagen 1927
12. Complementarity: Lake Como 1927
Part III: Quantum Interpretation
13. Gedankenexperiment: Brussels 1927
14. An Absolute Wonder: Cambridge 1927
15. A Certain Unreasonableness: Brussels 1930
16. A Bolt from the Blue: Copenhagen 1935
17. The Paradox of Schrodinger's Cat: Oxford 1935
Part IV: Quantum Fields
18. Crisis: Shelter Island 1947
19. Quantum Electrodynamics: Oldstone 1949
20. Gauge Symmetry and Gauge Theories: Princeton 1954
21. Three Quarks for Muster Mark: Pasadena 1963
22. The Higgs Mechanism: Edinburgh 1965
Part V: Quantum Particles
23. Electro-weak Unification: Harvard 1967
24. Deep Inelastic Scattering: Stanford Linear Accelerator Center 1967
25. Asymptotic Freedom and Quantum Chromodynamics: Harvard 1973
26. The November Revolution: Brookhaven and SLAC 1974
27. The W and Z Bosons: CERN 1983
28. Completing the Picture: Fermilab 1994
Part VI: Quantum Reality
29. Hidden Variables: Princeton 1951
30. Bell's Theorem: Geneva 1964
31. The Aspect Experiments: Paris 1982
32. Beating the Uncertainty Principle: Albuquerque 1991
33. Three-photon GHZ States: Vienna 2000
34. Reality, Whether Local or Not: Vienna 2007
Part VII: Quantum Gravity
35. That Damned Equation: Princeton 1967
36. The First Superstring Revolution: Aspen 1984
37. The Quantum Structure of Space: Santa Barbara 1986
38. No Consistency Without Contingency: Durham 1995
39. The Second Superstring Revolution: Los Angeles 1995
40. Resolving the Impasse: CERN 2008
Epilogue Quantum Timeline Name Index Subject Index

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2013


    The lecture is captivating. One needs some basic scientific background to read it, but otherwise the lecture appeals to a large audience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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