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QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  16,435 ratings  ·  537 reviews
Famous the world over for the creative brilliance of his insights into the physical world, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman also possessed an extraordinary talent for explaining difficult concepts to the nonscientist. QED--the edited version of four lectures on quantum electrodynamics that Feynman gave to the general public at UCLA as part of the Alix G. Mautn ...more
Paperback, 158 pages
Published October 21st 1988 by Princeton University Press (first published 1985)
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Andrew Polito Of course Feynman was aware of the dual nature of light. Feynman builds up his explanation of QED one step at a time, and tries to take the reader thr…moreOf course Feynman was aware of the dual nature of light. Feynman builds up his explanation of QED one step at a time, and tries to take the reader through layers of questions that science had to answer to arrive at our current understanding of quantum mechanics. (Or more precisely, the understanding that was current when the book was published.) Some simplifications, like describing photos as particles reflecting off the "surfaces" of glass are discarded in later sections once he given the reader sufficient tools to discuss the deeper concepts more accurately.(less)

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Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes, it's too late, but that makes you do it better. You probably imagine that this book is a physics text. Well, it is, but that that's not what it really is. Really, it's a love letter to a dead woman. Feynman says in his introduction that his friend Alix Mautner had always wanted him to explain quantum electrodynamics to her so that she could understand it, and he'd never gotten around to doing that. Now it was too late. But, somehow, you can see that that only made him want to do it, n ...more
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My reaction upon finishing this book:

(Any excuse for a Breaking Bad reference.)

Seriously, though, this is one of the best pop science books I’ve yet encountered. I read Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character last year, and was thoroughly impressed by Feynman’s animated personality and his passion for physics. Now I find myself even more impressed by his exceptional teaching ability. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter is a collection of 4 lectures he gave t
Roy Lotz
I love this area of physics and I think it’s wonderful: it is called quantum electrodynamics, or QED for short.

I love this book and I think it’s wonderful: it is called QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, or QED for short.

I feel as though I’ve been searching for this book for a long time, and now I’ve finally found it. In scarcely 150 pages, Feynman takes you inside the logic of this famously obscure subject. What was before unintelligible is breezy in Feynman’s hands. What had b

I took this photo when I was about half way through the book. It shows a picture of a CD [click to enlarge]. It's been illuminated by an ordinary office lamp and the flashlight from my camera. I knew about this "rainbow" effect for a long time, but I didn't know exactly how it is created. This book gives some answers.

To write a successful book like QED (short for Quantum Electro-Dynamics) two prerequisites are required: 1) The author must know a great deal about the subject matter, and 2) He
Vlad Kovsky
May 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's amazing what Feynman is attempting here. He tries to fully explain quantum electrodynamics to people with no background in physics. I am not sure he succeeds, I will have to check it by giving this book to someone who fears the subject.
Even for people like myself, who have been trained in physics, these lectures are useful. The way Feynman clearly communicates the concepts while not diving into mathematics is brilliant. I think these lectures are must read material for aspiring physicists.
You could call me a science groupie. I put on Cosmos while I clean the house, snatch up Michio Kaku's books like they won't be there tomorrow, know all the words to every Symphony of Science song ever, and follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter--but that doesn't mean I know the first thing about real science. I couldn't solve a linear algebraic equation even if the world depended on it (sorry, world). Instead, I revere famous physicists from afar while most women my age drool over movie stars lik ...more
Paul E. Morph
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Richard Feynman's friend Alix had asked him to explain Quantum Electrodynamics (the titular QED) to her in a way a layman could understand many times. Heartbreakingly, it wasn't until her death that he actually found the time to write a series of four lectures that would do just that. This book is a (slightly edited) transcript of those four lectures.

Feynman writes for the layman without ever being condescending and his famous sense of humour shines through. He makes this subject both approachab
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter is an outstanding book on a subject that is often overlooked or glossed-over in many popular physics books. Feynman does a deep dive on Quantum Electrodynamics: a theory that deals not only with the various interactions between light and matter, but which can be applied to every area of physics with the exception of gravitation and nuclear physics.

The theory of QED is fascinating, both in its explanatory power and its elegance. Using only a handful of
Jose Moa
Apr 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, physics
Wonderful,Feynman is a genius of popularization,without a mathematical expression has achieved the goal of give the rigurous quantum electrodinamics fundaments of geometric and physical optics,is to say,refraction,refraction index,reflexion, difraction ,converging lenses,classic Fermats principle of minimun time in path light and so on.

He uses arrows to represent complex numbers in complex plane,with its modules and phases and uses sums and products of histories in the propagation of the photon
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
In the beginning of QED, Richard Feynman says that people are always asking physicists about the new findings of a grand unified theory. He feels they should also be asked about known and confirmed theories instead of undercooked and partially analyzed ones. So he decides to speak about the “well dissected and marvelous” theory of QED. The theory describes the interactions between photos and electrons, space-time and probabilities, among others.

The book is based on four conferences given by Rich
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Throughout the years of reading both popular and less-popular science, I’ve kind of steered clear of Richard Feynman. The main reason is that what others describe as a “larger than life persona” I tend to describe as really bloody annoying, what with his bongos and womanizing and oh-so-clever quips where he always gets the upper hand with the old and rusty physics establishment. Having now fought my way through QED, I can see that this may have been a mistake. My annoyance with his autobiographi ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing

That's my position: I'm going to explain to you what the physicists are doing when they are predicting how Nature will behave, but I'm not going to teach you any tricks so you can do it efficiently.

Starting from the idea of photons as particles of light, Feynman develops a nontechnical, easily understandable theory of basic quantum electrodynamics, or QED. He uses it to give modern explanations of everyday phenomena such as reflection and refraction, before delving into the basic of electron-pho
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Sep 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
It's all arrows, man. All about arrows. Physics is not a subject I have a terribly good grasp on mainly because my eyes glaze over at the sight of advanced mathematical equations, however Feynman is a pretty great at making the complex subjects of particle physics and quantum mechanics intelligible to the layest of laypersons. Fortunately I also read this with able-minded people who translated the math into clearer ideas which of course opened things up to broader philosophical speculation--some ...more
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: repeat-authors
I've never seen something like this before! It explains the way quantum electrodynamics actually works (not just analogies), but without assuming any physics or math background. I would have been skeptical if the author were anyone other than Richard Feynman, but it's super well done. With my limited physics background, I found the explanations super clear, at least in the beginning.

Some of my favorite parts: I learned that light doesn't always travel in a straight line or at the speed of light,
Dean Hamp
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I visited my brother a long time ago, when he was working on his Ph.D. in Physics. He tossed a small, innocuous-looking book to me and said, "Read this - its a complete brain-f**k. I've been hooked ever since. QED is, by far, the best piece of non-fiction I have ever read. It takes a long time for me to work though the concepts, and, as Feynman points out, nobody (including me) (especially me) truly understands Quantum Electrodynamics. But to begin with adding 'damned little arrows' and take tha ...more
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Its a subject that got glazed over when I was in Engineering and after that, a wiki entry that I frequented whenever I had questions. Feynman targets this book to, well, everyone. He holds your hand and shows how things work. Its a slow step by step process and if you invest some time, its highly rewarding and quite refreshing to be taught physics by a man who is long dead but doesn't really feel so when you read his words. You get transposed to his classroom as he explains basic concepts and th ...more
Ami Iida
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
、Chapter 3; electrons and their interaction will be a clue to solve all the phenomena for the universe.
It's the absolutely essential reading physics book for everyone .
Bob Nichols
In this series of short lectures, Feynman reduces (except for gravity and radioactivity) the whole of the universe to quantum electrodynamics or QED.* QED involves the relationship between photons (light) and electrons (matter), or quantum phenomena, the interaction of which (electrons emit/give up and absorb/get photons/particles of light) creates all of the atoms and elements in the universe.

Feynman uses light’s refraction to illustrate the relationship between electrons and photons. To under
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This weekend just passed my flatmate's boyfriend was visiting. Being the inquisitive sort, at one point he asked me if I could explain the main results of my PhD thesis to him in terms he would understand. To my eternal shame my knee-jerk response was "No." But a few moments later I was to be found scrawling on a napkin, explaining rational points on curves, density arguments, counting functions, and concluding by using the word "generalise" far more times in one sentence than I was comfortable ...more
Fraser Kinnear
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I think this is my favorite science book. This was in large part due to having Feynman's real voice in my head, as I've heard him often in recorded lectures and documentaries.

The book is transcription of a few lectures Feynman gave on Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), a branch of quantum theory he and Dirac developed. Feynman introduces a few simple rules on how electrons and photons behave (which appear to be easy-to-digest analogs for vector calculus) and then off he goes, explaining the theory a
Jimmy Ele
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The particle view of physics and how Richard Feynman was able to explain all of the weird ways that light behaves was a thoroughly engrossing read. The intellectual feat that was performed by this man in creating a workable mathematics for the physics behind the way that light travels, and reflects is truly amazing. Using the simple concepts of rotation, spin, frequency, and depicting it all with some simple calculations involving arrows and simple algebra gave me a sense of awe at the simplicit ...more
Ivan Vuković
Jan 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
A masterpiece of popular science. Feynman did what most authors can only dream of... He explained extremely difficult concepts from his path integral formulation of quantum mechanics and he even made renormalization sound intuitive... and he did it all without any equations, but without hand-waving.

I feel like I really understood something... maybe that's because I'm a physicist and I know some of these things, but nevertheless I think Feynman explained everything so clearly that a layman could
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pop-science
Having already studied some classical optics, reading about the quantum side of light was akin to eating only half a cookie--at first sweet and satisfying ("Hey, that explains the distance minimizing stuff!"), but not quite filling.

Alas, that's the nature of science popularization. If you omit math, the heart is gone, and you have to make do with the leftover shell. Feynman does the best job of leaving behind some substance that I've ever seen in such a book.

Excellent pedagogy, and some great q
Kate (Kate Reads a Book)
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
In all honesty, most of this book was over my head. But I enjoyed Feynman's sense of humor throughout. If you like physics, this is a good, quick read that's both entertaining and informative. ...more
Bishnu Bhatta Buttowski
Seriously, I don't know how to write this review. I'd promise myself and you that I'll be updating this review as I begin to evolve my thought regarding this book and 'Theory of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED)'.

Physics has become full of Mess, these recent days, since the discovery of quantum mechanics and perhaps you'd claim that Physics is Ugly.

Well I couldn't agree with you more, but on the other hand, Physicist and the whole of the physics community have done the great job of correlating these
Nancy Mills
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How can you not love Richard Feynman? This is as easy a lesson in quantum electrodynamics as you'll find, I think. Which is not to say "easy," but painless to read and absorbable with enough concentration and/or re-reading of the harder parts. No more math than you are already familiar with, just kind of hard to wrap your mind around.
I have often complained that I didn't "believe in" quantum theory because it doesn't make sense. It turns out that nobody understands WHY it works, but Dr. Feynman
Denisa Arsene
Feb 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
I can't say that I know mich physics than I've already known.
The explanation is good, you can understand, you are able to imagine things and if you are really interested I believe you can make suppositions. But I am not. I read the book because it sounded interesting and I thought that after reading it I would be more able to understand things. I am not. What I knew, I know.
Lots of formules - actually, I know something new: the way to calculate and that the result of an action is done by an ar
Paige McLoughlin
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Got to pick this up again. Every time I read it I see something new. A progressing student of physics very own, I Ching.
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When I first heard of the two recent quantum physics mega-events--the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle and the confirmation of the Inflation theory--I knew that these were events of massive import but I was woefully ill-equipped to understand the "why" of it. What began as a wikipedia binge of particle physics terms and definitions, became an attempt to understand the four fundamental forces, which then led me to Richard Feynman's QED. This book attempts to explain to the layperson one of t ...more
Mary-Jean Harris
This book hits all the marks for a great novel. Yes, it's a science book, but it's probably one of the best ones I've read so far. Feynman has a fun style of writing and makes these topics very easy to understand. He really captures the wonder and excitement that new things in physics can offer. Even though I knew many of the things in the book already, I had never seen them presented in this way before, as in, explaining common phenomena like reflection and diffraction with the little "arrows" ...more
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Richard Phillips Feynman was an American physicist known for the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as work in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Pr ...more

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47 likes · 5 comments
“What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.” 282 likes
“There is a most profound and beautiful question associated with the observed coupling constant, e - the amplitude for a real electron to emit or absorb a real photon. It is a simple number that has been experimentally determined to be close to 0.08542455. (My physicist friends won't recognize this number, because they like to remember it as the inverse of its square: about 137.03597 with about an uncertainty of about 2 in the last decimal place. It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it.) Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and "we don't know how He pushed his pencil." We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don't know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly!” 10 likes
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