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The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  392 ratings  ·  61 reviews
The story of the unlikely friendship between the two physicists who fundamentally recast the notion of time and history

In 1939, Richard Feynman, a brilliant graduate of MIT, arrived in John Wheeler's Princeton office to report for duty as his teaching assistant. A lifelong friendship and enormously productive collaboration was born, despite sharp differences in personalit
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Basic Books
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Manuel Antão
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Turbocharged minds: “The Quantum Labyrinth” by Paul Halpern

“It’s worth a lot of miles to talk with you about anything and everything.”

John Wheeler referring to Richard P. Feynman, November 28, 1978 (Caltech Archives) in “The Quantum Labyrinth” by Paul Halpern

“His ideas are strange; I don’t believe them at all. But it is surprising how often we realize later that he was right.”

Richard P. Feynman referring to John A. Wheeler, in “Inside
"Everything you can imagine is real."

Picasso’s words seem to have been uttered specifically for these two unique personalities. John Wheeler and Richard Feynman gave new meaning to creativity and contribution in physics.

According to Thorne, Feynman turned to him and offered some sage advice about Wheeler: “This guy sounds crazy. What people of your generation don’t know is that he has always sounded crazy. But when I was his student I discovered that if you take one of his crazy ideas and you un
Peter Tillman
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Halpern has written a first-rate history of physics from the early 1940s through the 1960s (with some previews), updated to the present day. His focus is on Feynman & Wheeler, but all the prominent physicists of the time make appearances. I can't say that he makes quantum physics more understandable -- that's a task beyond my scientific pay-grade, I'm afraid. But he captures the flavor of this extraordinary era really well, and relates a number of entertaining new-to-me Feynman anecdotes. Such a ...more
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
This book is a long overdue celebration of two of the world's most important physicists, John Wheeler and his student Richard Feynman. Every once in a while, there is a pairing so dynamic that a wealth of downstream reactions occur. The fortuitous pairing of Wheeler and Feynman was just such a pair. When these two minds got together and began a partnership that would last the rest of their lives, they became jointly obsessed with figuring out how the universe works. Using Einstein's theory of re ...more
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
For years my parents renovated their house; out with the old, in with the new. Again and again:

Avocado kitchen.

Blue and green kitchen.

Orange and gold kitchen.

Beige kitchen.

Gold sofa.

Flowered sofa.

White sofa with a regal trapunto.

Beige sofa.

Then they reached a point where the constant changes were just too much, too absurd, and everything stopped. It’s disconcerting but comforting to me: Disconcerting in that one could misconstrue their steady state as surrender rather than peace; comfor
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A good biography with a lot of physics, or a great book on quantum physics with biographies of Feynman and Wheeler. Take your pick, this is pretty readable - though probably not for the beginner.

The author is a professor of physics, and interviewed one of the two principals in the book. His way of describing particle and quantum physics is smooth, especially in historical context. The early interactions of these two giants led to where we are today, and their continued contact influenced both. C
The Quantum Labyrinth covers a relatively unexplored part (in popular books) of quantum mechanics evolution while focusing on the two most colourful inventors of the time, John Wheeler and Richard Feynman. The book shines when the focus is on the life stories or personalities of the scientists but struggles where it tries to explain their work.

There are hundreds of books discussing the initial phase of QM starting from the birth of Einsteinian quanta to the explosions created by the theories of
Mike Pluta
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I consider myself to be a geek of all things Feynman. This book was a disappointment. There is nothing here that hasn't been written before, and written much better. ...more
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, physics
Fantastic biography of Wheeler and Feynman. How they’re similar, how why’re very different.
Nov 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Halpern's account of Feynman and Wheeler's lives and works is not only enjoyable, but it helped me to fill in many gaps in my understanding of how modern physics got where it is and isn't or might be. ...more
David Wineberg
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
There are two natural divisions in quantum mechanics. The first focused in Europe, from Planck through Einstein to Heisenberg. The second was in the United States, with European refugees working around the likes of Richard Feynman and John Wheeler in the runup to the second world war. The Quantum Labyrinth is about this second era, from the late thirties onward. It is as much biography as science. Paul Halpern has pulled together the lives of numerous protagonists, giving them humanity and human ...more
Josh Friedlander
The fundamental weirdness of QM is pretty well known, and as Feynman said, all of it can be derived from the double-slit experiment: depending on whether there is an observer, light behaves either as a wave or as a particle. Putting aside its ramifications, we can successfully model this in a way that fits all experimental evidence. But how do we picture it? That more philosophical question still hasn't a satisfactory answer. The venerable Copenhagen Interpretation defended by Bohr is based arou ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review is of the audiobook version of this title. The Quantum Labyrinth is a book mostly biographical about the lives of two great physicists, Richard Feynman and John Wheeler. It did intersperse some scientific descriptions in lay-person’s terminology so that it was very understandable. I especially appreciated the explanation of Feynman diagrams, which I have seen but needed more explanation to understand. I also greatly enjoyed the historical manner in which the author, Dr. Halpern, beg ...more
Matt Heavner
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great path (among many - one of the themes of the book) looking at 20th century physics through the partnerships of Feynman and Wheeler (and Dyson, Einstein, Thorne, ... touching many physcists). A good discussion of the physics but just as much about the people and their relationships. The narrative of the book was many-world interpretation, with lots of Broges' references. The description of Feynman's death reminded me of my dad's passing..

A good book.
Aishwarya Ketkar
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quantum physics will always remain strange to me. Over the last 2 years I spent time reading numerous books about both of them, but this book still had new ideas to share, also answers to some quantum puzzles. Ideally, if you have been reading about Feynman and Wheeler, this book fills in some of the missing pieces of information.
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Just wow! A fantastic great book! Informative, intriguing, illuminating. Excellent concept: short sections, biographical notes intertwined with scientific narrative. One of the best popular science books I've read. We need more Paul Halpern. ...more
Yzabel Ginsberg
[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This is somewhat a strange book, hovering between a biography and physics book, through the lives of Richard Feynman and John Wheeler, and it seems to me it has both the good sides and shortcomings of both. Shortcomings, as in, it can’t go really in depth in the lives of the two scientists, and at the same time, the physics aspect is sometimes too complex, and sometimes too simple, which makes for an unbalanced
Jim Mann
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Wheeler and Richard Feynman were two of the great physicists of the 20th Century. Wheeler was soft-spoken, but had numerous ideas wild ideas. Feynman said "His ideas are strange; I don't believe them at all. But is surprising how often we realize later that he was right." Feynman was adventurous and flamboyant (had he lived longer, he'd have enjoyed being a recurring guest star on The Big Bang Theory), but in physics he wanted to discover the laws of nature and had no time for philosophy or ...more
Wendy (bardsblond)
Oct 06, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is part scientific history, part textbook, part dual biography. Overall, I did really enjoy this book. However, in writing a review, I think I would be negligent if I did not advise that readers should probably have at least a bare-bones understanding of basic physics principles in order to fully enjoy this book. I took college physics but do not work in a scientific field and I followed it fine but the author whizzes through the entire history of quantum mechanics and it’s not a long ...more
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about the great ideas of quantum physics and some of the most prominent people behind the science. When the young and brilliant physics student Richard Feynman was assigned deep thinker John Wheeler as his thesis adviser, that was the start of one of the most productive partnerships in modern physics. Wild ideas were grounded in brilliant math and physics, leading to the breakthroughs in quantum electrodynamics that gave Feynman his Nobel prize and celebrity status.

But science is
Thomas Hansen
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a very good book, it's incredibly well researched and is packed with details about their lives and their shenanigans. The only weird thing I noticed that nobody else mentioned was I feel like the writing style wasn't particularly great. Everything was written in past tense, and they often follow the same structure when talking about a discovery (thing they're working on, random fact about discovery, now they finished and have discovery). This would take place over a few paragr ...more
Leonardo Etcheto
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating to see how their thinking evolved, and all the different ideas that were tried and tested and discarded. The cool thing was how nice they were as people as well, with family life being one of the goals for both Feynman and Wheeler. Wheeler had a more crooked route, with TB taking his first wife.
I really like these kinds of books that are an biography of both and idea and the people around it. It is incredible how much technological progress we have made since their time, yet how much
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book provided information about John Wheeler and Richard Feynman that may not be readily available elsewhere, including their both their personal lives and amazing professional accomplishments. Wheeler was the dreamer whom Feynman thought was full of crazy ideas; however, by and large his ideas turned out to be right. Feynman was the more practical of the two, working only on subjects that could be physically verified. We owe the term "black hole" to Wheeler and Wheeler and his students are ...more

Always a good sign when a book begins with an epigraph from a Borges' story, "The Garden of forking Paths," in this case, a perfectly appropriate choice when talking about the many worlds and multiversal ramifications of quantum theory, especially after Hugh Everett III's 1957 doctoral dissertation.

Halpern is up to the task of making the esoteric and abstruse as accessible to the non-physicist, non-mathematician as possible. His description of the way Wheeler's "Twenty Questions: The Surprise Ve

Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book and it was a good read. I found the biographical aspects and anecdotes fascinating. I like how the author intertwined Wheeler’s and Feynman’s histories. Their mutual respect and admiration really comes across.

However, I found myself disappointed in the science writing. It felt disjointed. Sometimes the author delved too deeply into a subject and lost me. In these cases, graphs or illustrations would have been illusory. Other times, he glossed over the science. I found myself
Sergei Voitovich
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely love this book for two reasons:

1) I’m into science. The book gives a high-level, but detailed overview of cutting edge ideas of the previous century. A reader follows both individual path of a couple of legendary scientists, watching the grow of personal research interests as well ad huge collaborative contribution such as CERN and Manhattan. However it isn’t a textbook with exercises, instead ideas are described in abstract manner.

2) I’m in a constant search for “attractive person
Fred P
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Learn more about the lives of two famous mathematical physicists. John Wheeler was famous for his math skills, and Richard Feynman for his physics knowledge. Together they wrote equations that demystified the quantum work. Well, not completely - quantum physics is still strange. This book doesn't tell us everything about the science, but it does touch on their famous solutions to key quantum puzzles, and their hopes for future developments.

This is science history. If you've read Feynman biograph
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Note: I received this ARC from NetGalley.

I found this book to be really good. I love reading about science and the history of the subject, so this book was right up my alley. Halpern is a great author, and wrote a very good book. His analogies are good, though I do wish there would have been more diagrams. I enjoyed all of the historical tidbits, particularly the one's about John Wheeler. Some of the stories about Feynman were already covered in other books (like his own autobiography/antics boo
Joab Jackson
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
A nicely executed though perhaps hazily focused recounting of the lifetime professional friendships of physicists John Wheeler and his ace graduate student Richard Feynman. I'm not sure what the purpose of the book is: Part of it is a Feynman biography, part is a recounting of the developments in quantum physics through the 20th century (including the by-now de rigueur passages attempting to explain, with never enough context, how quantum physics works). There is, however, surprisingly little on ...more
Pat Goetz
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thought it was a great book, with my bias being that Feynman is my favorite physicist. This book brought Wheeler way up on my list though. Paul Halpern did such a great job of painting a picture of Wheeler's personality and ways of thinking and I especially enjoyed the fact that he compared him to Feynman throughout the whole book. After taking a year of quantum mechanics in undergraduate, I thought this was a great new perspective for me and made me way more excited about quantum and particle ...more
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Acclaimed science writer and physicist Dr. Paul Halpern is the author of fourteen popular science books, exploring the subjects of space, time, higher dimensions, dark energy, dark matter, exoplanets, particle physics, and cosmology. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship, and an Athenaeum Literary Award. A regular contributor to NOVA's "The Nature of Reality" phys ...more

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