Skip to main content

Quantum Physics for Poets – Leon Lederman & Christopher Hill ***

I am always suspicious when a book makes a big thing about the author being a doctor. When you see ‘The Wonder of Vitamins’ by Fred Doser M.D., you just know it’s more about selling product than information. Although not quite as bad, I was a little put off by the way the cover of this book tells us it’s not by Leon Lederman, but Leon LedermanNobel Laureate. Now don’t get me wrong, Leon Lederman, the scientist who came up with the nickname ‘God particle’ for the Higgs Boson is a real scientist, and is, indeed, a Nobel Prize winner. But I couldn’t help but find this splashing around of the fact a distraction rather than an aid. Was his Nobel Prize for explaining physics to ordinary folk? No. Does it make him any better at it? No. So why such a big thing of it?
Once you’ve got past this branding, it’s certainly an interesting title. Unlike The Cosmic Verses, this isn’t a book that’s all in rhyme, though admittedly a few poems do appear. It’s more a book that is intended to be read by people who don’t read science books like, well, poets.
It certainly manages to fulfil half the title. There’s plenty of quantum physics in here, along with a bit of Newton/Galileo style science to give the background. And Lederman & Hill don’t hold back in going into some quite hard to follow areas. They spend quite a while, for instance, on Bell’s theorem, the indirect way by which it’s proved that quantum entanglement really does involve non local effects, rather than carrying information in hidden variables. But the trouble is, I don’t get the impression that either of the authors are great communicators. Lederman’s God Particle book is significantly more readable, but I think his co-author was a writer. The fact is any poet (or anyone else not reasonably versed in science) is going to struggle to keep up with this book and having a few cartoons (which quickly die out) doesn’t transform it into effective science communication.
What you end up with, then, is not a book for poets, but rather one that gives an introduction to quantum theory for, perhaps, those who are nearing the end of school and are hoping to study physics at university. The trouble is, even that market is better covered Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw’s The Quantum Universe. If Leon Lederman had brought hosts of personal insights to the table, it would have made this book worthwhile, but there are only a couple of very short instances. It’s fine as alternative to Cox and Forshaw, but certainly isn’t for those of a poetic disposition.
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Peter Spitz


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…