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"The Quantum World" by J.C. Polkinghorne

Another great, gentle discussion introducing the layperson to the beautiful subject, that is, Quantum Physics.

In everyday conversations, whenever someone mutters the word "quantum," a high-degree of intelligence is automatically assumed. It's no question because aside from the mathematical formulas required to understand the mechanics of it, the subject also scratches the surfaces of philosophy and the overall comparison to our reality. While other authors have received mixed reviews attempting to write about a difficult subject to the average person, perhaps J.C. Polkinghorne may be the one we've been looking for this whole time.

A thin book that could be read in no time, author Polkinghorne has done a remarkable job in thinking about the reader before presenting his knowledge in this tough but curiously popular subject among the curious. In other words, what you get is a presentable, almost conversation-like, explanation about the basics of Quantum Mechanics (QM), what its purpose is and what it serves in the real world. There are instances that the math is presented, but are explained gently—the variables used to calculate, what they mean and a couple of famous equations. Even if that may trigger fear and disinterests to certain readers, Polkinghorne makes sure the reader doesn't stop and put away the book. Yes, he keeps his promises throughout.

For those who are fully experienced in physics, are a physics major and/or is currently working as a physicist of various sorts, this book will be too basic and you won't find anything new or groundbreaking. I'd say this is perfect for those venturing into the subject for the first time and/or hopes to pursue a career involving the microscopic world.

A little note from someone who read this book: Before reading this book, or doing research on QM, if you've never been exposed to the subject previously, do so with an open mind. If anyone has told you, before you took on such subject, I'll say the same thing they may have said: The world involving atoms, photons and electrons are certainly strange and have a behavioral pattern that isn't realistic in the physical world. Know that some things aren't the way it seems, and while it's possible to master how things work, nobody—and I mean nobody, literally—knows why the atoms work in such way. Polkinghorne will gladly do the explaining as you read the book because, well, electrons, let alone the atoms that make up the Universe and everything in it, including you and me, don't seem to comprehend in the same way as real-world physics—classical physics. You may find it's something of a "fairytale," but it seems to be true. This "weirdness" ought to challenge your imagination, which should enable you to see the world differently, but in a better sense. Famous physicist Albert Einstein had quite a say about the quantum world during its growing discovery. What did he think, and what was his take? I'll let you find out what he thought.

Having shopped for books up and down, and for almost a decade, I'm not sure why I didn't find this title earlier. You're looking at the most gentle, friendly yet non-intimidating shot at a subject written in an approachable style. Perhaps this was the title that did the best job in simplifying a tough subject that many people seem to want to know more about, thanks to pop culture references to Erwin Schrödinger's famous thought experiment, Schrödinger's Cat and more.

While I find this book to be a competitor to In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, this is possibly the gentler of the two.

This is the very first Princeton Science Library book we have reviewed! Thank you, Princeton Press, and thank you Polkinghorne! We strongly recommend this book!





  • Fantastic writing all throughout.
  • Explains the subject without too much of the math.
  • Should be a recommended book for both students and professors.
  • None.
100% (A+)
Fan Rating
Title The Quantum World
Author(s) J.C. Polkinghorne
Description The Quantum World

This compact volume presents quantum mechanics for the general reader. It offers a lucid description of the intellectual challenges and disagreements in the study of the behavior of atomic and sub-atomic particles—a field that has completely changed our view of the physical world, but that is still subject of unresolved debate about its fundamental interpretation.
Dedication To my former colleagues in the Department
of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics,
University of Cambridge
ISBN 0-691-02388-3
Book Dimensions Width: 7.44″ (5 7/16″)
Height: 8.5″ (8 ½)
Depth: 0.38″ (3/8″)
Page Count 112
Contents Preface, 1 Perplexities, 2 How it all began, 3 The tools of the trade, 4 Which way did it go?, 5 More-or-less knowledge, 6 Fixing it, 7 Real togetherness, 8 What does it mean?, Appendix, Glossary, Further Reading, Index
Cover photograph and design Laury A. Egan
Published 1984
Publisher Longman Group Limited / Princeton University Press
Copyright Copyright © 1984 by Longman Group Limited
All rights reserved
First Princeton Paperback printing, 1985

First Princeton Science Library edition printing, 1989
Printed in United States of America
Book Format Paperback
Quoted Reviews "[Polkinghorne] offers much insight in this thoroughly delightful little book into the nature of the conceptual problems at the heart of the twentieth century's most successful theory. ... I wholeheartedly recommend The Quantum World. . . ."—Tony Hey, New Scientist

"A delightful book written at a popular level but without any misleading over-simplication."
Roger Penrose, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"The author's life as well as his oeuvre, especially this lovely little book, bear testimony to the fact that . . . science and nature can coexist in harmonious complementarity."
Abraham Pais, Nature
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Other J.C. Polkinghorne has spent most of his working life as a theoretical elementary particle physicist and from 1968 to 1979 was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University. In 1979 he resigned to train for the ministry of the Church of England, and he is now an ordained priest.

From its publication of Albert Einstein's The Meaning of Relativity in 1922, Princeton University Press has bee committed to bringing the writings of leading scientists to a broad professional and general audience. The Princeton Science Library now makes the best of these works available in uniform, inexpensive, paperback editions for new generation of scientists and teachers, students and non-specialists.
Library of Congress
Cataloging-in-Publication Data

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