Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World by David Kaiser (PDF)



Ebook Info

  • Published: 2020
  • Number of pages: 360 pages
  • Format: PDF
  • File Size: 5.08 MB
  • Authors: David Kaiser


A series of engaging essays that explore iconic moments of discovery and debate in physicists’ ongoing quest to understand the quantum world. The ideas at the root of quantum theory remain stubbornly, famously bizarre: a solid world reduced to puffs of probability; particles that tunnel through walls; cats suspended in zombielike states, neither alive nor dead; and twinned particles that share entangled fates. For more than a century, physicists have grappled with these conceptual uncertainties while enmeshed in the larger uncertainties of the social and political worlds around them, a time pocked by the rise of fascism, cataclysmic world wars, and a new nuclear age. In Quantum Legacies, David Kaiser introduces readers to iconic episodes in physicists’ still-unfolding quest to understand space, time, and matter at their most fundamental. In a series of vibrant essays, Kaiser takes us inside moments of discovery and debate among the great minds of the era—Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Stephen Hawking, and many more who have indelibly shaped our understanding of nature—as they have tried to make sense of a messy world. Ranging across space and time, the episodes span the heady 1920s, the dark days of the 1930s, the turbulence of the Cold War, and the peculiar political realities that followed. In those eras as in our own, researchers’ ambition has often been to transcend the vagaries of here and now, to contribute lasting insights into how the world works that might reach beyond a given researcher’s limited view. In Quantum Legacies, Kaiser unveils the difficult and unsteady work required to forge some shared understanding between individuals and across generations, and in doing so, he illuminates the deep ties between scientific exploration and the human condition.

User’s Reviews

Editorial Reviews: Review “A masterpiece of historical analysis. . . . Skilfully written and a pleasure to read.”—Nature“Engrossing. . . . Leave[s] us with a richer picture of physics as a lived activity.”—Los Angeles Review of Books”An ambitious collection of essays that merges [Kaiser’s] two scholarly identities. . . . A wide-ranging anthology.”—Physics Today”From Einstein to Heisenberg, Schrödinger to Hawking, Kaiser humanises the people and by extension their ideas, all the while making connections between the inner world of the academic quantum theory community and the outer world of global events. This sociopolitical standpoint is a key factor in making the technical science relevant to the non-expert reader. . . . In this collection of highly entertaining essays, he finds the perfect line between scientific scholarship and telling a good story.”—Engineering & Technology”Kaiser—writing in prose that sometimes soars, often intrigues, and always informs—gives us here a remarkable set of vignettes about major developments in physics and cosmology of the past century. His vignettes beautifully integrate science with human history and with insightful descriptions of outsized personalities. This book will be enjoyable and enlightening for a diverse readership: from complete novices in science, to students of science and history, and to professional scientists and historians.”—Kip Thorne, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, California Institute of Technology, and 2017 Nobel Laureate in Physics”Physicists are people! They have insecurities, love lives, monetary concerns, and political opinions, all while striving to uncover the fundamental workings of reality. Kaiser spins engaging tales that both explain fascinating aspects of physics in a lucid way and illuminate the human beings who worked to discover them.”—Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden”Have you ever wondered why Schrödinger chose such a morbid illustration of quantum physics as a half-dead cat? Want to know how an alleged Soviet spy escaped capture and went on to shake up particle physics? Can you guess what propelled The Tao of Physics to bestseller status? If questions like these spark your curiosity, this book is for you. I can imagine no better guide for an insider’s tour of twentieth-century physics than Kaiser. These witty vignettes beautifully illustrate what Kaiser calls the ‘doubleness’ of scientific research, its ability to bequeath enduring insights while reflecting the quirks and foibles of historical circumstances.”—Deborah R. Coen, author of Climate in Motion”Explaining physics is easier than explaining physicists. In Quantum Legacies, Kaiser succeeds at both.”—George Dyson, author of Turing’s Cathedral”What is extraordinary about Kaiser as a writer (and what makes his essays so much fun to read) is not only his ability to animate the range of personalities in these pages, from Einstein to Heisenberg, Schrödinger to Hawking, but also the way he brings the same humanizing impulse to their mind-bending ideas. His talent for uncovering connections between otherworldly ideas and the social and political worlds in which they take shape makes him a simply spellbinding guide to the mysteries of the universe.”—Nell Freudenberger, author of Lost and Wanted”Kaiser is a master writer, and this is some of his finest work. An extraordinary combination of technical science, rich history, and telling anecdote, Quantum Legacies is cutting-edge scholarship rendered in a style equal to any popular science writing. When a non-academic asks me ‘what is the history of science?’ I will give them this book.”—Matthew Stanley, author of Einstein’s War: How Relativity Triumphed amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I”Friendships and rivalries, the demands of war, the limits of technology … we usually gloss over as the inevitable march of scientific progress. Kaiser’s book provides a wonderful glimpse behind the curtain into the messier—but far more human—truth of the matter. Beautifully written and extraordinarily well researched, the book makes a profound point about the sociopolitical nature of science that all readers—from physics buffs and historians to students and laypeople—need to hear.”—Amanda Gefter, author of Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn About the Author David Kaiser is the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of several books, including How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, and is coeditor of Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Reviews from Amazon users which were colected at the time this book was published on the website:

⭐Quantum Legacies was a joy and pleasure to read. Every chapter and every page was engaging, enlightening, and thought-provoking. I read it straight through because I could not put it down. The most well-written book of any kind on any topic I have read in a long time and I read dozens of books every year.

⭐Good book, but where did all the dirt come from?

⭐The articles are meticulously researched and of historical and current interest. Several books in physics are discussed that make it valuable for physics education.

⭐A wonderful integration of hard science, historical context, fascinating biographies, wit and just plain generosity of spirit. David Kaiser is the teacher you all wish you had. He considers the reader as perfectly capable of understanding the most arcane and cutting edge research in physics and he makes it all accessible and so much fun as learning should always, at some level, be.


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