Book Reviews



The Quantum Zoo

by Marcus Chown

Review by Richard Sheppard


Another book about the biggest unanswered question in science: is there a single theory which explains the laws of the Universe from the sub-atomic level to the edge of the cosmos? The author portrays the present state of knowledge about the quantum, sub-atomic realm through analogy, metaphor and summaries of experimental results. He does a fairly good job with the straightforward, factual stuff about physics and chemistry, but when it gets dicey, for example with "superpositions" and other quantum ephemera such electron orbitals and particles being in two places at once, some concepts defy the author's descriptions. Overall, a worthy effort, which includes fun trivia: that if you removed all of the space within atoms, all of humanity would fit in a sugar cube; these kinds of mind-pictures usually help get ideas across in vivid ways. 

Also appreciated his quote of noted physicist Richard Feynmann: If all of the information about human existence and knowledge were to somehow vanish, what would be the one piece of useful information that could be passed along? "Everything is made of atoms." And, of course as this book describes, "all atoms are made of quantum particles," would help even more. Although just as a starting point, since much of quantum mechanics is devilishly difficult to understand or explain.