An Enlightening Book on Einstein and the Quantum Theory Debate

Published April 11, 2011

Review of Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality, by Manjit Kumar (W. W. Norton & Co., 2010), 448 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0393078299

While I was a student at Princeton University in the early 1950s I had a literally nodding acquaintance with Albert Einstein. During my freshman year he walked past my dormitory every day on his way to the Institute for Advanced Study. I often found myself on the sidewalk as he passed by, and we nodded to each other. I have read many an interesting biography of his life since, but none more interesting than Quantum, by Manjit Kumar.

Quantum is a biography not just of Albert Einstein’s life but also his thought processes. It also provides insight into the dozens of famous theoretical physicists who influenced and aided him in his work.

Complex Science Explained
Quantum theory, which attempts to describe the atomic and subatomic worlds, is for most people a byword for mysterious, impenetrable science. For many years it was equally baffling for the world’s most brilliant physicists. Here the author gives us a dramatic and superbly written account of this fundamental scientific revolution and the divisive debate at its core.

Simply reading Quantum may not make one an immediate expert on quantum theory, but the chronology of every great contribution to the physics of quantum theory—beginning in 1858 and continuing to the present—will be worth the price of the book.

The most complex and difficult-to-understand intricacies of quantum theory in no way reduced the joy I felt in reading this book and following the journey of so many great scientists as they researched and published their discoveries. Interestingly, these discoveries were not often verified in a laboratory, but they were agreed upon because they accorded with physical observations and allowed for reasonable mathematical solutions.

Interesting Narratives, Theories
In one of the most compelling discussions in the book, Kumar describes a conference held in Belgium in 1927. Of the 29 people invited to the conference, 17 went on to receive the Nobel Prize. At times Kumar made me feel like I was in the room. Heisenberg, Planck, Born, and Schrödinger came alive for me as I read these passages.

In an enlightening scientific discourse, Kumar explains the concept of entanglement, a quantum phenomenon in which two or more particles remain inexorably linked no matter how far apart they are. He also explains the intriguing quantum theory in which Dr. Schrodinger’s cat can be simultaneously dead and alive.

Quantum is not a book for everyone. But if you have a great deal of scientific curiosity and enjoy reading about some of the greatest scientific minds in history, you will certainly enjoy this book.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.