Feature Physics

8 Quantum Essentials

I was sitting on a train reading The Quantum Universe by Prof. Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw when I noticed that the stranger next to me was reading over my shoulder. He read for 15 minutes before speaking. Our conversation went like this:

Stranger: I am always skeptical of these popular science books that don’t have math in them. How can you understand quantum mechanics without math?

Me: If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.

Stranger: Feynman said that!

Me: I know. I didn’t just make that up.

If Feynman’s claim turns you off to learning about quantum, let me remind you that on the quantum scale, something can be in two places at once, other things can exist only if you look at them, and sometimes stuff happens with no cause-and-effect relationship. Want to hear more? Here are 8 of those popular science books about quantum mechanics just published this year…


Bluffer’s Guide to the Quantum Universe by Jack Klaff


9781785215575_OctNever again confuse a boson with a hadron, a fermion with a meson, or a photon with a lepton or an electron. If in doubt, always fall back on a bluffon. Bask in the admiration of your fellow physicists as you pronounce confidently on the theories of superstrings and entanglement, and hold your own in any discussion about Schrödinger’s Cat. And in moments of uncertainty always resort to the tried and tested rejoinder: “They’re addressing that at CERN.” (October 2018)



Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew about Quantum Physics Is Different by Philip Ball



An exhilarating tour of the contemporary quantum landscape, Beyond Weird is a book about what quantum physics really means—and what it doesn’t. Science writer Philip Ball offers an up-to-date, accessible account of the quest to come to grips with the most fundamental theory of physical reality, and to explain how its counterintuitive principles underpin the world we experience. (October 2018)

The Washington Post says, “Beyond Weird is easily the best book I’ve read on the subject.”



What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker


9780465096053_marchFor a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation and dismissed questions about the reality underlying quantum physics as meaningless. A mishmash of solipsism and poor reasoning, Copenhagen endured, as Bohr’s students vigorously protected his legacy, and the physics community favored practical experiments over philosophical arguments. As a result, questioning the status quo long meant professional ruin. And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists like John Bell, David Bohm, and Hugh Everett persisted in seeking the true meaning of quantum mechanics. What Is Real? is the gripping story of this battle of ideas and the courageous scientists who dared to stand up for truth. (March 2018)


Through Two Doors at Once: The Elegant Experiment That Captures the Enigma of Our Quantum Reality by Anil Ananthaswamy


9781101986097_augThe intellectual adventure story of the “double-slit” experiment first challenged our understanding of light and then the nature of reality itself, and continues to almost 200 years later. How can a single particle behave both like a particle and a wave? Does a particle, or indeed reality, exist before we look at it, or does looking create reality, as the textbook “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics seems to suggest? How can particles influence each other faster than the speed of light? Is there a place where the quantum world ends and the familiar classical world of our daily lives begins, and if so, can we find it? And if there’s no such place, then does the universe split into two each time a particle goes through the double-slit? (August 2018)


Real Quanta: Simplifying Quantum Physics for Einstein and Bohr by Martijn Van Calmthout


9781459740495_janFrom quantum computers to “teleporting” data, medicine to photosynthesis and the quantum compass in some migratory birds, Martijn van Calmthout plainly explains ― to his readers and to an astounded Einstein and Bohr ― how Quantum 2.0 is increasingly part of everyone’s daily life. Rather than being the exceptional domain, Van Calmthout shows how quantum mechanics is actually part of our tangible world, and may even be the very crux of our existence. (January 2018)



When the Uncertainty Principles Goes to 11: Or How to Explain Quantum Physics with Heavy Metal by Philip Moriarty


9781944648527_july.jpgFor those who think quantum physics is too mind-bendingly complex to grasp, or too focused on the invisibly small to be relevant to our full-sized lives, this funny, fascinating book will show you that physics is all around us. Philip Moriarty explains the mysteries of the universe’s inner workings via drum beats and feedback: You’ll discover how the Heisenberg uncertainty principle comes into play with every chugging guitar riff, what wave interference has to do with Iron Maiden, and why metalheads in mosh pits behave just like molecules in a gas. (July 2018)



Totally Random: Why Nobody Understands Quantum Mechanics: A Serious Comic on Entanglement by Tanya Bub and Jeffrey Bub


9780691176956_juneTotally Random is a graphic experiential narrative that unpacks the deep and insidious significance of the curious correlation between entangled particles to deliver a gut-feel glimpse of a world that is not what it seems.  A fresh and subversive look at our quantum world with some seriously funny stuff, Totally Random delivers a real understanding of entanglement that will completely change the way you think about the nature of physical reality. (June 2018)



The Second Quantum Revolution: From Entanglement to Quantum Computing and Other Super-Technologies by Lars Jaeger


9783319988238_OctoberThe Second Quantum Revolution tells the story of the revolution that will shape the 21st century as much as the first quantum revolution shaped the 20th century. As you read this book, the first prototypes of this revolution are being built in laboratories worldwide. Super-technologies such as nanotechnology, quantum computers, and quantum information processing will soon shape our daily lives, even if physicists themselves continue to disagree on how to interpret the central theory of modern physics. This book also touches on the profound philosophical questions at the heart of quantum mechanics. (October 2018)

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