Quantum Legacies (Hardcover)

Dispatches from an Uncertain World

By David Kaiser, Alan Lightman (Foreword by)

University of Chicago Press, 9780226698052, 360pp.

Publication Date: April 3, 2020

List Price: 26.00*
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Description

The ideas at the root of quantum theory remain stubbornly, famously bizarre: a solid world reduced to puffs of probability; particles that tunnel through walls; cats suspended in zombielike states, neither alive nor dead; and twinned particles that share entangled fates. For more than a century, physicists have grappled with these conceptual uncertainties while enmeshed in the larger uncertainties of the social and political worlds around them, a time pocked by the rise of fascism, cataclysmic world wars, and a new nuclear age.
 
In Quantum Legacies, David Kaiser introduces readers to iconic episodes in physicists’ still-unfolding quest to understand space, time, and matter at their most fundamental. In a series of vibrant essays, Kaiser takes us inside moments of discovery and debate among the great minds of the era—Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Stephen Hawking, and many more who have indelibly shaped our understanding of nature—as they have tried to make sense of a messy world.
 
Ranging across space and time, the episodes span the heady 1920s, the dark days of the 1930s, the turbulence of the Cold War, and the peculiar political realities that followed. In those eras as in our own, researchers’ ambition has often been to transcend the vagaries of here and now, to contribute lasting insights into how the world works that might reach beyond a given researcher’s limited view. In Quantum Legacies, Kaiser unveils the difficult and unsteady work required to forge some shared understanding between individuals and across generations, and in doing so, he illuminates the deep ties between scientific exploration and the human condition.


About the Author

David Kaiser is the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of several books, including How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, and is coeditor of Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


Praise For Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World

"Kaiser—writing in prose that sometimes soars, often intrigues, and always informs—gives us here a remarkable set of vignettes about major developments in physics and cosmology of the past century. His vignettes beautifully integrate science with human history and with insightful descriptions of outsized personalities. This book will be enjoyable and enlightening for a diverse readership: from complete novices in science, to students of science and history, and to professional scientists and historians."

— Kip Thorne, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, California Institute of Technology, and 2017 Nobel Laureate in Physics

"Physicists are people! They have insecurities, love lives, monetary concerns, and political opinions, all while striving to uncover the fundamental workings of reality. Kaiser spins engaging tales that both explain fascinating aspects of physics in a lucid way and illuminate the human beings who worked to discover them."

— Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden

"Have you ever wondered why Schrödinger chose such a morbid illustration of quantum physics as a half-dead cat? Want to know how an alleged Soviet spy escaped capture and went on to shake up particle physics? Can you guess what propelled The Tao of Physics to bestseller status? If questions like these spark your curiosity, this book is for you. I can imagine no better guide for an insider’s tour of twentieth-century physics than Kaiser. These witty vignettes beautifully illustrate what Kaiser calls the 'doubleness' of scientific research, its ability to bequeath enduring insights while reflecting the quirks and foibles of historical circumstances."

— Deborah R. Coen, author of Climate in Motion

"Explaining physics is easier than explaining physicists. In Quantum Legacies, Kaiser succeeds at both."

— George Dyson, author of Turing’s Cathedral

"What is extraordinary about Kaiser as a writer (and what makes his essays so much fun to read) is not only his ability to animate the range of personalities in these pages, from Einstein to Heisenberg, Schrödinger to Hawking, but also the way he brings the same humanizing impulse to their mind-bending ideas. His talent for uncovering connections between otherworldly ideas and the social and political worlds in which they take shape makes him a simply spellbinding guide to the mysteries of the universe."

— Nell Freudenberger, author of Lost and Wanted

"Kaiser is a master writer, and this is some of his finest work. An extraordinary combination of technical science, rich history, and telling anecdote, Quantum Legacies is cutting-edge scholarship rendered in a style equal to any popular science writing. When a non-academic asks me ‘what is the history of science?’ I will give them this book."

— Matthew Stanley, author of Einstein’s War: How Relativity Triumphed amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I

"Friendships and rivalries, the demands of war, the limits of technology . . . these are among the rich universe of forces that conflict and conspire to bring us what we usually gloss over as the inevitable march of scientific progress. Kaiser’s book provides a wonderful glimpse behind the curtain into the messier—but far more human—truth of the matter. Beautifully written and extraordinarily well researched, the book makes a profound point about the sociopolitical nature of science that all readers—from physics buffs and historians to students and laypeople—need to hear."

— Amanda Gefter, author of Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn