Adam Becker's What Is Real? is a fascinating history of the development of quantum mechanics. I love that the book focuses not only on the competing theories but on the colorful cast of physicists who developed and promoted them over the last century. Becker makes the case that cutting-edge physics has been as much a battle of personalities as a search for empirical truth. Recommended By Piers R., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The untold story of the heretical thinkers who dared to question the nature of our quantum universe
Every physicist agrees quantum mechanics is among humanity’s finest scientific achievements. But ask what it means, and the result will be a brawl. For a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation and dismissed questions about the reality underlying quantum physics as meaningless. A mishmash of solipsism and poor reasoning, Copenhagen endured, as Bohr’s students vigorously protected his legacy, and the physics community favored practical experiments over philosophical arguments. As a result, questioning the status quo long meant professional ruin. And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists like John Bell, David Bohm, and Hugh Everett persisted in seeking the true meaning of quantum mechanics. What Is Real? is the gripping story of this battle of ideas and the courageous scientists who dared to stand up for truth.
"Becker...make[s] a case for the importance of philosophy. That's a key call, with influential scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson dismissing the discipline as a waste of time. What Is Real? is an argument for keeping an open mind." Nature
"Becker's book is one of the first attempts we have at telling this story in a way that acknowledges how it actually turned out — acknowledges, that is, who won these debates about the Copenhagen interpretation, who lost them, who pretended otherwise, and how they got away with it....He has clearly done extensive and meticulous historical research." David Z. Albert, New York Review of Books
"A thorough, illuminating exploration of the most consequential controversy raging in modern science...[Becker] leads us through an impressive account of the rise of competing interpretations, grounding them in the human stories, which are naturally messy and full of contingencies. He makes a convincing case that it's wrong to imagine the Copenhagen interpretation as a single official or even coherent statement." New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Adam Becker is a science writer with a PhD in astrophysics. He has written for the BBC and New Scientist, and is a visiting scholar at University of California, Berkeley’s Office for History of Science and Technology. He lives in Oakland, California.