Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Quantum Age – Brian Clegg *****

Updated to include paperback
There are a lot of popular science books about quantum physics, and to be honest it seemed likely this was going to be a ‘me too’, more of the same, kind of book, whichmade it a pleasant surprise.
It’s not that Brian Clegg doesn’t explain the basics of quantum theory – he does this very well – but what set this book apart for me was the way that it focussed on the applications of quantum physics – the things that have changed our lives (and made my work in computer science possible) and that Clegg labels as the ‘Quantum Age’ much as we had the Stone Age or the Steam Age.
Electronics provides the most obvious of these applications, but we also visit the quantum world of the very cold where superconductivity and superfluids come into existence – and even explore the relevance of quantum physics to biology. This is all done in a very readable, storytelling fashion. This was particularly strong when bringing in key characters, like the remarkable Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (you’d have to be good with a name like that) responsible for early discoveries in the world of super cold, and the riveting story of the development of the laser which features everything from serendipity to the weird fallout of the US fear of communists in the 1950s that meant a leading scientist was not allowed to read his own notes as he didn’t have clearance to do so.
If there’s a fault, I could have done with rather more on some of the  topics, but overall the combination of the quantum physics and the applications makes the whole subject much more approachable than simply taking on the science. As one of my favourite authors, John Gribbin, says on the back ‘Brian Clegg does a superb job of explaining complicated scientific concepts in an easily understood language. The Quantum Age is his best book yet, because the concepts he explains are central to our everyday lives in the 21st century even though most people think they are incomprehensible and abstruse.’
Review by Peet Morris
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

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