Skip to main content

Quantum Mechanics – The Theoretical Minimum – Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman ***

I saw this book on the shelves in my local booksellers which are usually reserved for books which are new, interesting and likely to sell a lot of copies. They were right on two out of three, but they were in cloud cuckoo land on the ‘lot of copies’ part (unless we get a ‘Brief History of Time effect’ where lots buy it and don’t read it). This is a new and interesting book, and for the niche it is aimed at it is brilliant – but that is a narrow niche indeed.
Usually there are two kinds of science books. Popular science explains what the discoveries and theories of science, with historical perspective, so that the general reader can get a feel for them – but reading a popular science book on, say, quantum mechanics would not leave you able to solve quantum mechanics problems.
Textbooks, on the other hand, teach the actual science itself, usually with a lot more maths, so that you can indeed do the workings, but they don’t give you any context, and they are inaccessible (and, frankly, highly boring) to most readers.
This book highlights a tiny crack in between the two, a niche where it can do a very interesting job of leading the reader into the actual science, but in a more hand-held and less boring way than a textbook. Because it takes this approach it hasn’t got the context or readability of a popular science book – but it’s far more readable than a textbook. Similarly, it doesn’t have quite enough detail to really ‘do’ the physics – but it takes you well on the way there, so that it would only take a little textbook work to get on top of it.]
The only thing I’d criticise (apart from the narrowness of that niche) is the really irritating attempts at folksy fictional openings to the sections. They don’t work. Stay with what you’re trying to do, guys, don’t try to be entertainers.
For most popular science readers this book simply won’t work. It makes the infamously ‘I started it but couldn’t finish it’ Brief History of Time look highly simplistic and non-mathematical. And for serious physicists, it’s still too limited – though it takes what is in some ways a better approach, giving more emphasis early on to entanglement, than the way quantum physics is traditionally taught. Either for those about to start a university physics course who want some preparation, or for someone who finds popular science explanations too summary and is prepared to take on some quite serious maths (A level maths required as a minimum, I would say) it’s a fascinating addition to the library. For the rest of us, probably best to leave it where it is.
Hardback:  
Kindle version:  

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…