Ryan's Reviews > Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science

Uncertainty by David Lindley
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's review
Nov 09, 11

bookshelves: favorites, nonfic-history, nonfic-science
Read in August, 2010

The early 20th century was by no means an orderly, calm period in the world of theoretical physics. New discoveries in relativity and quantum mechanics were casting increasing doubt on classical physics. Scientists were learning that some phenomena, taking place at the unseeable atomic level, seemed not to be deterministic and predictable, but probabilistic and not so predictable.

Uncertainty provides an informative overview of the major players during this era, and explores the disarray that a changing state of knowledge brought to the physics community, with some more conservative figures, such as Einstein, advocating caution and their own belief that the universe could not truly be so disorderly, and younger physicists, such as Heisenberg, rejecting scientific orthodoxy and searching for the answers in more radical ideas. While I'm sure there are better books about physics and better biographies of famous scientists, this one does capture the division that quantum mechanics brought about among most the brilliant, legendary physicists, and their all-too human arguments as they struggled to make sense of its paradigm-shaking implications. The author also notes the background of political and social unrest taking place in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, raising the question of how much this drama may have been a part of the soul of the scientific drama.

An interesting book.

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