The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments

Jim Baggott, Author
Jim Baggott, Oxford Univ., $29.95 (450p) ISBN 978-0-19-956684-6
Reviewed on: 01/17/2011
Release date: 04/01/2011
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"The reality of scientific endeavour is profoundly messy, often illogical, deeply emotional, and driven by the individual personalities involved...," writes Baggott, and his wonderful history of the scientists and ideas behind quantum mechanics offers ample entertaining proof. Science writer Baggott (A Beginner's Guide to Reality) tells the tumultuous story through 40 key events, beginning at the start of the 20th century, when Lord Kelvin, a British physicist, announced that scientists now knew everything about how the world worked. That triumphalism soon disappeared with Einstein's groundbreaking papers on relativity, which upended that understanding and defined the battleground that would occupy physics for the next century. Baggott hits all the usual high points, from Niels Bohr's work on atomic structure to the "uneasy alliances" and outright battles between proponents of different theories. Baggott's narrative stands out for its parallel exploration of the tenacious, all-too-human side of things: Schrödinger's unorthodox sex life and his loathing of academia; Richard Feynman's intuitive problem solving with all its "enthusiastic handwaving." The basic history behind the quantum revolution is well-known, but no one has ever told it in quite such a compellingly human and thematically seamless way. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Apr.)
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