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A Math-Free Exploration of the Science that Made Our World

by James Kakalios

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-592-40479-7
Publisher: Gotham Books

A cheerful and mostly successful effort to explain the notoriously difficult field of quantum mechanics.

Kakalios (Physics and Astronomy/Univ. of Minnesota; The Physics of Superheroes, 2007), who served as the science consultant for the film version of Watchmen, loves pulp science fiction and comics but admits that their predictions flopped. By 2000, they promised flying cars, jetpacks, routine interplanetary travel and domed underwater cities. They had forecast a revolution in energy which didn’t happen, paying less attention to the revolution in information that gave us personal computers, the Internet, smart phones, MRIs and instant international communication. Central to this revolution was quantum mechanics, a weird but critically important field. In the ultra-tiny quantum world, light travels as a wave or as a particle depending on the experiment. Protons and neutrons are infinitely small points, yet they “spin.” The image of the atom many of us learned in high school—a tiny solar system with electrons circling a nucleus—is wrong. Reasonable things are impossible (you can never locate a subatomic particle precisely), but the impossible happens routinely (particles can teleport past impenetrable barriers). Readers will rarely chuckle at the author’s numerous jokes, and they may roll their eyes at examples featuring superhuman characters from pulp magazines. Despite the title, the book is not math-free, although it rarely goes beyond high-school algebra. However, readers should not expect an easy ride. Quantum mechanics remains a complex field, but one as essential to a good education as, say, knowledge of Shakespeare or the Constitution. 

A quirky but sensible explanation of quantum mechanics that avoids the oversimplification of TV science documentaries.