There’s a saying that goes, “If someone tells you they understand quantum physics, they’re lying.” There’s probably some truth to that, given how much about the universe is still not understood, but I also think it does a bit of a disservice to non-scientists who might be interested in learning about the basics quantum mechanics, as it suggests that it’ll all just go over their head and is therefore not worth doing. I won’t lie and say that none of what James Kakalios discusses in The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics was beyond me, but I will say that, even as a hapless English major, I learned a lot about the basic underpinnings of quantum mechanics and how there theories are applied to the devices I use every day.
I should add that I did have a bit of a primer in the subject, as prior to picking up Kaklios’ book, I read Quantum Theory: a Very Short Introduction by John Polkinghorne. The two works compliment each other nicely. Polkinghorne provides a chronology of the various theoretical breakthroughs that inform quantum theory, and is more technical. Kakalios, on the other hand, avoids a linear approach, and instead highlights select aspects of quantum mechanics in order to explain it’s real-world applications.
The science Kakalios presents is simplified without being excessively diluted, and he employs a number of creative analogies to explain different aspects of quantum physics. Some of these are a little tricky (I needed to read through the orechestra-balcony-mezzanine analogy for semiconductors a couple of times, and would still probably screw it up if I tried to explain it to you now), but given the complexity of the subject, they do a great job.
The real treat of the book is Kakalios’ humour, which I would describe—and I mean this in the nicest possible way—as disarmingly dorky. There’s genuine with beneath the cornier jokes, but also a genuine earnestness that I found endearing. It’s clear that Kakalios knows and loves his subject, and is excited to help more people learn about it.
If your interest is more in the theoretical aspects of quantum physics, Polkinghorne’s book might be more what you’re looking for, but if you’re after a primer that’s fun to read with plenty of real-world examples, Kakalios’ book is for you.