Kirkus Reviews QR Code


(And Why Anything That Can Happen, Does)

by Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-306-81964-3
Publisher: Da Capo

Quantum physics describes how everything (not just subatomic particles) works, but even experts agree that no one truly understands it.

There is no shortage of popular introductions, but curious readers will not regret choosing this meticulous account by British physicists Cox and Forshaw (Why Does E=mc2? (And Why Should We Care?), 2009). A particle can also be a wave of pure energy, and it can be anywhere in the universe at the same time. An electron moves from one orbit of an atom to another instantly, but one can never locate it precisely. Space cannot be empty; matter constantly appears and vanishes. If quantum laws do not forbid something from happening, it will eventually happen. These are facts; experiments confirm them. Writers often explain these in relentlessly nontechnical language that converts them into a magic show, but Cox and Forshaw will have none of this. Using ingenious pedagogical examples, they demonstrate that weird quantum phenomena make perfect sense. Thus, they convert a particle/wave to a clock whose time indicates the wave’s phase and whose hands turn counter-clockwise as the particle/wave moves; the square of the hand’s length represents the probability of finding it in a particular spot. By following this analogy, they insist, formerly mysterious concepts such as wave-particle duality and the uncertainty principle follow naturally. While the authors show real imagination, they are dealing with profoundly challenging subjects, and readers who do not pay close attention will find themselves reduced to enjoying the traditional magic show.

An ambitious explanation of the vast quantum universe aimed at readers willing to work.