cover image Quantum Leaps

Quantum Leaps

Jeremy Bernstein, . . Harvard/Belknap, $18.95 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-674-03541-6

Bernstein, a former New Yorker staff writer and prolific popular-science author (Plutonium ), embarks on an almost quixotic attempt to explain the mysteries of quantum mechanics. It's a daunting topic. The legendary nuclear physicist Niels Bohr once said, “Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.” Bernstein seamlessly interweaves the story of his own growing fascination with quantum theory and the people who were influential in nurturing his career with the theoretical conundrums that abound in quantum theory. He also is very eclectic in the sources he draws on to explain some of the more remarkable aspects of quantum theory: the Dalai Lama, W.H. Auden and the plays of Tom Stoppard all provide relevant points of interest. The scientific explanations that comprise much of the book—the problems of measurement and entanglement, how particles of energy and matter can become predictably correlated over great distances—are earnest and, because of the nature of the topic, unavoidably difficult for the uninitiated. But this is a labor of love, and serious science readers will find it worthwhile. (Oct.)