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Quantum – Manjit Kumar ***

The first thing that strikes you about this book it’s big. It’s a chunky tome. It looks suspiciously like the sort of book that assumes you’ve written a ‘big’ book if you have written a long one, and sadly the contents don’t do anything to counter this opinion. It goes on too long, it’s often dull and I couldn’t really find any new ground being covered here – it has all been done before, better and more readably.
For example, the early chapters on Planck and Einstein feel very samey with all the other material I’ve read on them (though it’s particularly plodding here). The trouble is, you feel you have to put all this stuff in, but there’s no doubt that it’s going over old ground with a will. Things do live up a little when we get onto Bohr, who has relatively little biographical information written about him. However, even here things aren’t all sweetness and light. The problem with this section is the author’s poor structuring. We keep diving back and forth in time. Part way through Bohr we jump back to JJ Thomson’s mini biography, before we can really get any progress we then jump out again for Rutherford’s biography, part way through which (nest jumps!) we pop out for Roentgen’s biography and so on.
Later on, when we get onto the massed brigade of young quantum turks, there are just too many being thrown at us, the biographies get very dull and samey. It’s not so much unputdownable at this point as unpickupable.
All the way through it’s a touch too technical for the general reader. There are unnecessary formulae and units are rarely explained. The science is often it bit too close to what I remember from first year physics lectures at university.
All in all, this would make a good textbook to give some context to those studying quantum physics, but it’s a poor attempt at a popular science book on the topic. Take a look at Marcus Chown’s Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You for a much better general introduction.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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