The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our World
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The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our World

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3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  243 ratings  ·  54 reviews
In the pulp magazines and comics of the 1950s, it was predicted that the future would be one of gleaming utopias, with flying cars, jetpacks, and robotic personal assistants. Obviously, things didn't turn out that way. But the world we do have is actually more fantastic than the most outlandish predictions of the science fiction of the mid-twentieth century. The World Wide...more
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Published October 14th 2010 by Tantor Media (first published October 1st 2010)
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Gordon
In my undergraduate thesis, I hypothesized that students who focused on understanding the concepts of quantum mechanics would learn more than students who instead focused on mathematical formalisms. In the "Amazing Story," Kakalios demonstrates just how interesting and engaging the ideas of quantum mechanics can be.

Without any mind-numbing equations, he introduces theories from statistical mechanics, solid-state physics, and modern atomic/nuclear physics, and shows how they form the basis for ma...more
Ebster Davis
Read this exerpt from chapter five with me.

"In 1958, Jonathan Osterman (Ph.D in atomic physicts, Princeton University) began his postdoctoral research position at the Gila Flats Research Facility in the Arazona desert. There he participated in experiments probing the nature of the "intrinsic field."

The author of this book, Mr. James Kakalios goes on to explain that "Without the electromagnetic, strong, or weak forces, there is nothing to hold atoms or nuclei together, and all mater would rapidl...more
Jason Mills
James Kakalios clearly loves comics as much as he loves quantum physics, and pounces on any excuse to lever them into this book. These interjections (often illustrated with frames or covers from comics) take the form of light-hearted nerdiness:
...the amazing superpowers displayed by Dr Manhattan... are a consequence of his having control over his quantum mechanical wave function.
I rolled my eyes, but was happy to indulge these cheerful diversions, even if they're not terribly helpful, as they do...more
Blog on Books
James Kakalios is one funny guy. Sure, he is a “distinguished professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota,” but he makes no bones about the fact that he is a science-fiction nut whose mission (at least in this book) is to teach the layman how to understand the sometimes dense principles of quantum mechanics using real-life examples mixed with a hefty dollop of humor and Buck Rogers atmospherics.

Kakalios begins his journey by simultaneously seducing and yet ste...more
Peggy
It's no secret what drew me to this book: the subtitle is A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our World. Math-free? That's for me. Sadly, as Kakalios admits in his introduction, it's not really math-free, merely math-simple (as defined by a physicist). Still and all, it's an enjoyable read. Kakalios is a self-admitted nerd and geek, and he draws his examples and illustrations from comic books. He's got a very accessible, conversational style, and he's not above a bad pun or two. Do...more
James
There are lots of people who are smart enough to read this book and come away with a solid layman’s understanding of Quantum Mechanics. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I’ll have to re-read this book to understand its details.

But don’t blame physicist James Kakalios for that. Although he keeps his promise to exclude all but a smidgen of mathematics from this popularization, his subject is inherently difficult. It’s a good thing that his prose is conversational, lucid, and often illuminated with a to...more
Serge Boivin
I am not giving this book a rating because I only made it halfway before I decided to stop reading. I will only make a few observations.
First, "math-free" doesn't appear to mean the same thing to a physics professor as it does to me! To be fair to the author, he states upfront that the book is not really math-free, but that it contains only some simple math. There is quite a lot simple math, so to me it added up.
Second, although it meant to be straightforward and engaging, I still found some of...more
Laura Méndez
Every human being has the right and should (If I may advise) try to learn how an otherwise obscure and apparently mystical field for the lay person, quantum mechanics, has shaped and revolutionized the very way we live in communication, transportation and even health and entertainment aspects.
This book is about that, about the rudiments (and often a little more than that) of the basics of quantum mechanics. It is explained by a comic lover physicist who developed enlightening analogies to reach...more
Dave Lefevre
I can't say I totally understand quantum physics, but as it's not my field I don't have to. I can say that books such as this one have helped me get a feeling for some of the basic concepts. Quantum physics is understandable, and Kakalios has worked hard to make some of the key concepts clear. There are a lot of tough concepts in the book, but it still manages to be entertainment. Kakalios is obviously a fan of comics from all their ages, and uses examples and panels from books as divergent as "...more
University of Chicago Magazine
James Kakalios, SM’82, PhD’85
Author

From our pages (Sept–Oct/10): "Kakalios breaks down quantum mechanics through the lens of science fiction, invoking Buck Rogers and Dr. Manhattan to describe the physics that underlies our wired (and wireless) existence. He brings quantum concepts down to earth by explaining, for instance, how changes in quantum energy states allow the hands of some clocks to glow in the dark."
Nicholas  Ryan
I thought this book used a very innovative why of teaching you quantum mechanics using science fiction and using every day objects to explain it. This is an amazing piece of literature and you should read it.
El_camello
Read this book after reading Physics of Superheroes. The material was very dense with one point coming fast after another which made it very hard for me to follow. I'm new to quantum mechanics (fairly new to physics as well) which made every point a very new point to try to wrap my head around. I think every chapter would have benefited from a point form summary of some sort to help retention. Perhaps even more pictures. The book has pictures, but with the complexity of the material it could of...more
Holly
A U of M professor uses comic books and science fiction to try to make quantum mechanics fun and accessible to everyone. I'm not that into old comics so those parts weren't the fun breaks they should have been, but a discussion of why some science fiction became reality and other SF technology, like personal jet packs, did not (our revolution was in information, not energy) is readable. A few chapters of the book were review from school. Still I finished this book and I feel like I probably need...more
Mscout
Kaklios has written a pretty good book for the non-scientist explaining the basics of quantum mechanics. It is, as promised, math-free, but at times does get a little deeper than one would imagine in such a book. Especially enjoyable were the different ties to golden age comics and pulp fiction that he used to both illustrate concepts and show how prescient some of those authors truly were. At times, it seemed that the scientists were trying to keep up with the science fictionists. The book is d...more
Laura
It's a tough read if you don't know much about chemistry and physics, even though it says it's math-free -- for example, exactly how DO you get an electron and shoot it through a piece of glass? I just have to assume it can be done and not worry about how. But there were a lot of interesting facts and historical information and even some humor (the geeky science kind). It's probably more for a science major than your average person interested in physics. "The Case of the Missing Neutrinos and Ot...more
Laura
It's a tough read if you don't know much about chemistry and physics, even though it says it's math-free -- for example, exactly how DO you get an electron and shoot it through a piece of glass? I just have to assume it can be done and not worry about how. But there were a lot of interesting facts and historical information and even some humor (the geeky science kind). It's probably more for a science major than your average person interested in physics. "The Case of the Missing Neutrinos and Ot...more
Dan
Ridiculously entertaining, though I must admit that I probably did not understand it all.
Doc
Some interesting info and it gave me a cloudy sort of sense, of the most elementary kind, of quantum mechanics. Such an indefinable cloud might be entirely apropos for such a subject, but I found the book often tough going for listening during my commute. Frequent references in this audio book to illustrations available at a website did not help me whilst behind the wheel.
His use of examples from comic books and SF pulp stories was helpful, but, despite the book's subtitle, my thorough dunderhea...more
Tim
My son, who is very keen on physics, keeps asking me questions about quantum mechanics that I can't answer. Before I get to the stage where I can't even understand the questions, I thought I'd give this backgrounder on quantum mechanics a try.[return][return]I enjoyed the early chapters, but found the later chapters on the applications of quantum mechanics in technology less interesting - I would have preferred more on the fundamental scientific and philosophical issues raised by quantum mechani...more
Bob Collins
OK - I hit the wall with this one. Quantum Mechanics, even a "popular" description, without (most of) the math, is still very difficult to understand - at least for a "humanities" kind of guy like me. Kakalios tried to spice it up with plenty of references to science fiction stories and superhero comics, which certainly helped. I thought I didn't really learn/retain much, but several recent science articles referring to quantum mechanics that I've read since this book, have actually made a littl...more
Troy
This book is extremely well written and relatively accessible considering the subject matter. I was looking for a book on quantum mechanics as it relates to current technology, and this book delivered. Kakalios does a wonderful job explaining the science and concepts behind the technological innovations that have become part of our everyday lives. While there were still many concepts that were a bit over my head, I enjoyed reading this book and think it would be worthwhile to revisit in the futu...more
Andrew
A very readable (mostly) math-free introduction to quantum mechanics, the field of modern physics that tends to send students screaming from college Introduction to Physics classes. Kakalios (author of the even more readable "The Physics of Superheroes") starts each chapter with science fiction or comic book concepts, then discusses the underlying science that would make some of these work, or how modern technology such as cell phones and DVD players work. The concepts can get a little dense, bu...more
Brooke
May 19, 2013 Brooke marked it as partial-reads  ·  review of another edition
I read 80 pages before deciding I was going to return it to the library and focus on the rest of my always-being-replenished library stack. This isn't my first rodeo with pop science books on this topic, but this promise of a math-free exploration of quantum mechanics somehow ended up being denser and harder to read than the others that I've read. I did learn and understand more specifics about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle than I'd learned previously, though, so it wasn't completely wast...more
Greer Andjanetta
A readable and largely understandable book but not as a quick read. Simple examples are used to explain complex concepts and they don't always work but one finishes the book knowing more about quantum mechanix than when one started. The author's constant referrals to comic books is somewhat off-putting but comes across as a need to demonstrate his knowledge of pulp fiction. SOME mathematics would have been appreciated but on the whole it was an interesting read.
Linda
This is a very accessible qualitative description of quantum mechanics and the real world applications of quantum effects In particular, his description of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is one the clearest I have ever read.

He also uses the world of comics and science fiction to illustrate how quantum mechanics would make possible some of the events that happen in the stories.

All in all, a surprisingly fun and very interesting read.
Timothy
Apr 14, 2011 Timothy is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
LIES!!! The first chapter was an equation. I suppose you can't really explain this subject without them, but it should have been titled with easy to understand mathmatics.

Otherwise, it is a good history of Quantum Mechanics, and the theories I was meant to understand were explained adequately.
In short, we don't have our jet packs and flying cars because we had a revolution iinformation and not in energy. So far.
Alex Kennard
A lovely work that goes a long way to making a difficult subject understandable. The pulp sci if connection is an entertaining theme, but really it's the use of creative analogies to explain various aspects of the subject that make this a great introduction.

Thanks to this book I now know where I need to go to work on aspects of basic quantum mechanics that I couldn't quite grasp. A great book.
Jonathan Crowe
More bewildering than I'd expected, with a lot of explanations that are very much like a python swallowing a pig. (Explaining how a semiconductor works by explaining it on a quantum mechanical basis seems backward to me.) And it's hardly math-free: there are plenty of (admittedly not-very-difficult) equations throughout the text. All in all more challenging than advertised.
Denise
Picked this up after reading Mr. Kakalios' marvelous book Physics of Superheroes. The problem with QM, unlike introductory physics in Superheroes, is that QM is not a subject for novices. Well written, liked learning about the gadgets around me.

Update: Quantum Enigma by Bruce Ronsenblum and Fred Kuttner has some overlap and is an excellent read.
Chris
I think I would enjoy this much more if I didn't already know the maths behind the QM. However, it does succeed at what it does: explain the basic concepts of QM without getting lost in the mathematics without diverging into pointless drivel about multiple-worlds hypotheses that far too many popular explanations of quantum mechanics lose themselves to.
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163440
James Kakalios is a physics professor at the University of Minnesota. Known within the scientific community for his work with amorphous semiconductors, granular materials, and 1/f noise, he is known to the general public as the author of the book The Physics of Superheroes, which considers comic book superheroes from the standpoint of fundamental physics.
Kakalios, who earned PhD from the Universit...more
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