Lee's Reviews > QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

QED by Richard Feynman
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's review
May 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 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 with.

He seemed to follow my haphazard ramblings which is always enough to leave one chuffed. It's no secret to the science community that its biggest failing is an inability to communicate with and engage the public. The more esoteric the science, the trickier it is to convey it in terms that are both accurate and interesting. And, outside of pure mathematics, it doesn't get a great deal more esoteric than quantum mecahnics. So Richard Feynman's QED is laudable for, if nothing else, being about as understandable as is possible with this subject. There were times that the text lost me, but after giving it some thought I realised in each case that it was because I was expecting the quantum world to make sense, and to paraphrase my old Physics teacher: if quantum mechanics starts making sense, then you've stopped understanding it.

Feynman's abilities as a scientific orator are pretty well known—one of my favourite videos on Youtube is a two-and-a-half minute video of Feynman sitting in a chair explaining how a train stays on the tracks. Seriously. Feynman's writing skills are apparently just as good, but I've not read any of his other books and this one is actually the edited transcriptions of four of his lectures, so his speaking prowess proves more useful here. And as if being fascinating, self-deprecating, and witty wasn't enough, he also manages to be quite touching. The lectures were the inaugural set in a series dedicated to Alix Mautner, an English major and long time friend of Feynman to whom the physicist had promised to explain quantum electrodynamics in terms she could understand. Sadly she died before he managed to do so, but the lectures here are, as he says, the ones he prepared for Alex, but that he could no longer give just to her.
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Reading Progress

May 13, 2012 – Started Reading
May 13, 2012 – Shelved
May 13, 2012 – Shelved as: non-fiction
May 16, 2012 – Finished Reading

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