2014 | 282pp | £14.99
Reviewed by Jonathan Prance
Quantum mechanics is a notoriously convoluted subject and it can be all too easy to get lost in a forest of mathematical details and differing philosophical interpretations.
In this entertaining and accessible book, Brian Clegg avoids these pitfalls by explaining the weirdness of quantum mechanics through the effects it has on the world around us and the technologies we use.
Examples range from DNA mutation and photosynthesis to levitating trains and lasers, and in each case the book explores the science of quantum effects and the history of how they were studied and put to use. The discussion is aimed at a general audience and there isn’t a single equation in the whole book; still, Clegg manages to tackle some of the most confusing aspects of the quantum world, such as entanglement and non-locality. At the same time, a wide-ranging and entertaining historical narrative sets the scene and provides some ‘moral support’: it can be comforting to know that early pioneers in the quantum world faced similar struggles to our own.
The book doesn’t try to shield the reader from the different and sometimes contradictory ways we imagine how things work at the quantum level. Instead, Clegg argues that we should learn to accept our discomfort and trust what quantum mechanics tells us about how the world works. It’s not surprising that we find it hard to paint a clear picture of this reality in our head, since it is completely different to our normal experience. But this, says Clegg, is a problem for educators to solve, rather than scientists, proposing that we should start teaching quantum mechanics in junior schools!
The quantum age is a great introduction to quantum physics, the people who have studied it and the effect that is has on our everyday lives. The book is aimed at non-specialists, but the inclusion of contemporary results and discussions means that even the more informed reader should find plenty to think about.