Quantum Physics: A Beginners Guide

| August 31, 2012 | 0 Comments


Out of few things that I really know for sure the first one is that it is really hard to write a book about quantum physics. The second one is that it’s not any easier to write a good book for physics beginners. In this book called “Quantum Physics: A Beginners Guide” Alaistar Rae tries to accomplish both of these hard tasks — he writes about the basics of quantum physics and tries to make the book accessible for beginners. So here’s my review in which I’ll discuss if the book, in my opinion, succeeds in delivering the basics of quantum physics for novice readers.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld (January 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1851683690
  • ISBN-13: 978-1851683697
  • Average Amazon Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

About the Author

Alaistair I.M. Rae  is the editor of The European Journal of Physics and was, until his recent retirement, Reader in Quantum Physics at the University of Birmingham. He is also the author of a variety of textbooks for physics students, which includes: Quantum Physics: Illusion or Reality and a textbook Quantum Mechanics.

Book Review

When it comes to writing about quantum mechanics and other advanced physics stuff for beginners the main problem usually is mathematics. What I mean is that such an abstract thing as quantum physics cannot be fully explained without the required mathematics. This causes many problems, for instance, if you add too much math, the book becomes too technical for beginners, however when there’s not enough math, quantum theory cannot be fully explained. It’s a problem with no easy solution and it’s nice to see that Rae approaches this problem uniquely. The book, in most of the chapters, has the so called “math boxes” in which additional math is added. Most of the time these “math boxes” contain the basic math equations. These boxes are for those with some background in physics, however they are not compulsory and, according to the author, one can read through this book without understanding what’s in the “math boxes”.

The book has 9 chapters, which include:

  1. Quantum physics is not rocket science
  2. Waves and particles
  3. Power from the quantum
  4. Metals and insulators
  5. Semiconductors and computer chips
  6. Superconductivity
  7. Spin doctoring
  8. What does it all mean?
  9. Conclusions

The first chapter starts out nicely by giving a short overview of classical physics and a little history of quantum physics. Right from the start one notices that the text feels very “technical” as if you’re reading a textbook. Of course, it’s no wonder as Rae has actually written some great textbooks in the past. There are also some  black and white diagrams which are quite helpful.

The 2nd chapter is where it starts going down hill. The reader gets an explanation of waves in classical mechanics and then almost immediately author heads into the double slit experiment, which is treated quite technically and is given very little attention, which is bizarre as it is perhaps the most important experiment in quantum physics. Then in the same chapter Rae tries to explain quantum potential wells, which seems a little too advanced for the beginning of the book, which is dedicated to beginners.

The following 5 chapters explain the various applications of quantum physics, which includes superconductors, metals and insulators, computer chips and other devices. The explanation of these applications is not bad, but if you have absolutely no background in physics, this stuff will surely fell a little “too technical”. The main problem with these chapters for me is that it’s a really strange way to teach beginners by starting with applications instead of the basics of physics and some philosophy behind quantum mechanics. If you go to a typical university to study physics, you are first taught the physics and only then you can understand the advanced applications that author describes in the book. And having in mind that probably most readers interested in basics of quantum mechanics were drawn to it by the famous strangeness of the double slit experiment and quantum entanglement, vast description of applications seems like a bad choice for a begginer’s guide type of a book.

The last two chapters give some philosophical considerations and history of quantum physics. It’s well written, but I think it should have been placed at the beginning of the book, so that a beginner could see the “big picture” before being bombarded by technical stuff about applications.

To be honest, I did not like this book, but there were some positive things about it as well. Here’s a short summary:

Pros:

  1. Nice last chapter, with a history of quantum mechanics and some philosophical considerations thrown in
  2. Neat and simple diagrams
  3. Great glossary at the end of the book

 Cons:

  1. Author’s style is too technical for a begginer’s book
  2. “Math boxes” are often useless as the equations have no derivations and their significance to the whole subject is often not explained
  3. Too much emphasis on applications and not enough on basic physics
  4. Overall, the book is too technical for beginners and not technical enough for people with experience in science
All in all, I would rate this book 3 stars out of 5. In my opinion, it’s a poor choice for beginners and experts as well. So I wouldn’t recommend buying this, unless you have some experience in physics and would like to find out more about applications that use QM. Overall, the best audience for this book would be young engineering students.

Links:

1. The book on Amazon (US|UK):

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