By Cherry / Spinebreakers Crew
Although not a present I’d normally give to someone for Christmas, Cox’s and Forshaw’s prose exudes enthusiasm and fervent passion for the subject. If you want to read a book that breathes passionate particle physics, then this is the one for you.
Its pretty cover, designed by Peter Saville, wraps the world of quantum physics in a sort of aura. It makes you question, argue and concede to views of others and your own; you’re given your own little ‘eureka’ moments as it were. It isn’t a text book however, so anyone thinking ‘I’ll just use this as a basis of my homework’ will be disappointed; it contains few references and little maths (thank God).
The emphasis in the book is that the key propositions of quantum theory, however strange, have been amply justified by experimental results, both at atomic and astronomical scales. Our modern world does rely on the correctness of the theory, and the whole story is a credit to science.
Don’t be put off by its meaty topic; like the best popular science books, it doesn’t demand any prerequisite knowledge, and yet the authors manage to tell you the simple rules of quantum mechanics in terms of diagrams and rules about how to add, multiply, and square lots of little clocks with different-length hour hands (instead of having to confuse you with complex numbers). They absolutely steadfastly resist the temptation to introduce any of the usual quantum mechanical terminology and jargon and instead provide you with a lucid mental imagery of what is going on.
And then just when you are thinking, ‘Hold on…This is too weird. This can’t really be what is going on. Either these physicists are fruitcakes, or I’m in total ignorance of what they’re trying to tell me’, They (metaphorically) pat you on your head and soothe your nerves, reassuring you that, ‘If you are wondering how on earth reality can really be like this, then you are in good company because nobody understands why reality is like this’, and then add ‘but we are very sure of the correctness of the quantum mechanical rules we have told you about because every experiment ever carried out has confirmed them to tremendous accuracy’. And another point, least they’re honest.
They divulge into other, ‘simple’ rules, (when I use the world ‘simple’, it is simple in a most complex form), and more importantly, without boring or baffling you senseless.
You can learn a great deal, and all in a few days reading. It’s succinct too, so if you want to clarify or re-read anything, it is an arduous task; in fact, there are a lot of diagrams, so it’s not only easier to understand but to finish too. Perfect for fans of physics (with a musical inclination to D:Ream).