cover image Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution

Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution

Carlo Rovelli, trans. from the Italian by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell. Riverhead, $20 (256) ISBN 978-0-593-32888-0

Physicist Rovelli (The Order of Time) dazzles with this look at the “almost psychedelic experience” of understanding quantum theory. He begins by explaining the theory’s development on the North Sea island of Helgoland in 1925, when Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist, discovered the “strangely beautiful interior” of an atom’s mathematical structure. From there, Rovelli outlines what he views as the “most convincing” understanding of quantum theory, a relational interpretation that suggests quantum theory describes “how every physical object manifests itself to any other physical object” and hinges on the idea that interactions between objects form observable reality and, thus, all objects, including humans, exist only in terms of their interactions with other objects. He puts this idea into conversation with philosophy and consciousness, fields where debates about quantum theory are plenty, writing, “Our prejudices concerning how reality is made are just the result of our experience.” These are big ideas, but Rovelli easily leads readers through the knotty logic, often with lyricism: “The courage to radically reinvent the world: this was the subtle fascination of science that first captivated me as a rebellious adolescent.” Readers who follow along will be left in awe. (May)