Dead or Alive?

The Quantum Story: A history in 40 moments by Jim Baggott

When I was studying mathematics at university, I found Quantum mechanics really confusing. We started with Schrodinger’s Wave equation and used it to derive all sorts of results, but there was never any discussion of the process of discovery. This book is one that I wish I’d read all of the those years ago.

It links together 40 moments in the history of Quantum mechanics, with several sections covering the various parts of the story. Part one, Quantum of action was the most interesting to me as it starts with Planck’s work on black body radiation and then  traces the development of quantum mechanics via both the matrix mechanics and the wave equations. Along the way, it makes it clear how counter-intuitive the discovery was, and the difficulties that have been around ever since in interpreting the meaning of the equations. Einstein appears in several of the moments, usually in opposition to the seeming action at a distance (the famous EPR result) and the difficulty of meshing the ideas with general relativity.

The book is easy to read, with each moment not taking too much space, though each has a prologue which gives the context of the moment to allow you to see how the entire story unfolds. It is written in a clear style and makes clear the difficulties that still plague this discipline.

I learned a lot from reading it and recommend it.

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