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

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  592 ratings  ·  85 reviews
Most of us are unaware of how much we depend on quantum mechanics on a day-to-day basis. Using illustrations and examples from science fiction pulp magazines and comic books, The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics explains the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics that underlie the world we live in.

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Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 14th 2010 by Gotham (first published October 1st 2010)
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3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  592 ratings  ·  85 reviews


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Gordon
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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Ebster Davis
Sep 29, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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Blog on Books
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Bob
Aug 29, 2014 rated it liked it
An intro to quantum mechanics with minimal theory, from a compilation of the basic facts. Explained that quantum mechanics basically means light acts like a "photon machine gun" and that energy states, at the atomic level, must occur in discrete "energy lumps" known as quanta.

Early in the book, listed:

"There are three impossible things that we must accept in order to understand quantum mechanics:

Light is an electromagnetic wave that is actually comprised of discrete packets of energy.

Matter is c
...more
Jason Mills
Oct 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
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
Shockvalue
Oct 18, 2016 rated it liked it
TLDR; Interesting and entertaining book, but hard to grok while driving.

I hate to admit that a book 'written for laymen' was outside of my comprehension, but there were quite a few times while listening to this book that I had to be content to pick out little nuggets here and there without understanding 'the big picture'.

Perhaps if I wasn't driving and could have actually studied the diagrams and the equations that the author kept referencing instead of keeping my eyes on the road I would have h
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Samuel
Jun 10, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: early comics fans, pulp magazine fans
This book is written by someone who grew up with pulp scifi and comic books, for people who grew up with pulps and comics. His explanations of quantum mechanics are littered with geeky references from before a time when geeky references were a thing. Many of them are before my time, so I didn’t appreciate them. Also, his style at times confuses fact and fantasy; the way he describes Doctor Manhattan’s origin story (from Watchmen ), for instance, seems for too long like he’s discussing actual sc ...more
Peggy
Aug 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Nathan Henrion
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
There is definitely an art for making advanced science palatable for the masses, unfortunately this book lacked that. Some interesting facts, but you need some per-ordained knowledge on the subject to even get going.
Abhilesh Dhawanjewar
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Scientists and writers of ‘scientifiction’ use our current understandings of the working of the universe to conjure up imaginative descriptions and refining our model of the universe, as in the case of scientists, or speculating about the future course of human societies and extraterrestrial worlds. The 20th century was a period of exciting scientific discoveries that radically altered our understanding of physics and at the same time saw the birth of the science fiction genres with its astonish ...more
Chris Esposo
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly an excellent book. Combines two things that should be together more often, the early 50s and 60s sci-fi pulp/comic book culture and a non-dumbed down exposition into quantum mechanics. Goes through Quantum Mechanics through via a series of easy to understand analogies, often times formulated by the original masters, like de Broglie's view of understanding particle/wave duality as a photon gun shooting at pebbles on a beach, to thinking of the Pauli Exclusion Principle for 1/2 spin particle ...more
Alberto Lopez
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
Do you want to learn quantum mechanics but without all the intimidating number crunching? This book is for you. As for me, I loved it but very much. In a weird way, I too disliked the constant references to comic strips. While I can see that including Buck Rogers or Superman in a high science book is a certain way to lighten its image, I found these passages to be a distraction. In any case, the rest of the book is so rich in great content that I happily lived with the caricatures. But don't be ...more
Firesprite
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I listened to the audiobook, which is delightfully narrated. It is also a little bit harder to follow due to the absence of pictures and view-able math equations (yes, there is still math). Combine with the multitasking one often does while listening to an audiobook, and this equals probably only really understanding about half of what was written. Still quite enjoyable though, although of course I remember more pulp fiction anecdotes than actual science...
Steve
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Entertaining and some of his explanations were much better than several other "serious" explanations I've read. Spoiler... there is actually some math, but not too crazy (made reasonable sense even though mine is rather rusty...). Really good explanation of the uncertainty principle and several other important concepts.
daphreads 🇵🇭
I only reviewed this four stars because it was difficult for an ADHD person like me to keep focused. But when I was focused and reading page after page, I learned some really interesting information about Quantum Mechanics. It took me, I believe, four or five weeks to finally finish it, but definitely that ending part was something to cherish and reflect on.
Kristyn
I do have a much clearer understanding of what quantum mechanics actually means and how it is applied in our daily lives. The analogies helped illustrate the concepts in an accessible way. My only criticism is that sometimes there were too many analogies.
Gary
Feb 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Contains an excellent recomended reading list for further study.
Diane Baima
May 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I gave up, unfortunately. Got stuck after chapter 6.
Laura Méndez
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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Brett Thomasson
One of the problems almost anyone has in trying to get even a sliver of understanding of the quantum physical processes by which our universe goes about its merry way is that they involve math and concepts which are often beyond the limits of most people without advanced degrees in the field.

Another is that many of the people who write about this kind of science are used to writing for the others who understand the math and the sometimes incredible concepts that quantum mechanics offers at just
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James
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Ayaan
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011


Table of Contents


SECTION 1 - TALES TO ASTONISH

CHAPTER ONE - Quantum Mechanics in Three Easy Steps
CHAPTER TWO - Photons at the Beach
CHAPTER THREE - Fearful Symmetry
CHAPTER FOUR - It’s All Done with Magnets



SECTION 2 - CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN

CHAPTER FIVE - Wave Functions All the Way Down
CHAPTER SIX - The Equation That Made the Future!
CHAPTER SEVEN - The Uncertainty Principle Made Easy
CHAPTER EIGHT - Why So Blue, Dr. Manhattan?



SECTION 3 - TALES OF THE ATOMIC KNIGHTS

CHAPTER NINE - Our Friend, the
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Dave Lefevre
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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Mscout
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
Holly
Jan 18, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Laura
Nov 06, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, adult
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
El_camello
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Laura
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, adult
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
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
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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
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“than meets the eye! 79 Don’t worry, Fearless Reader—he was framed and eventually demonstrated his innocence. 80 I don’t want to tell them their jobs, but if I were an astronomer, I’d keep my eye on Planet X. I think it might be trouble. 81 Primarily because it” 1 likes
“underwater cities, and robot personal assistants. From the 1930s on, science fiction pulp magazines and comic books promised us that by the year 2000 we would be living in a gleaming utopia where the everyday drudgery of menial tasks and the tyranny of gravity would be overcome. Comparing these predictions from more than fifty years ago to the reality of today, one might conclude that, well, we’ve been lied to. And yet . . . and yet. In 2010 we are able to communicate with those on the other side of the globe, instantly and wirelessly. We have more computing” 0 likes
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