This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
01.08.19 / Non-Fiction (Science) / Robinson / Paperback / 240pp / 978-1472143488
Target Audience: For readers looking to expand their perspective on Quantum Mechanics from a more narrative driven point of view. A digestible, enjoyable and captivating look into the history of such a pivotal subject and the ground-breaking discoveries that continue to this day.
Fundamental does for physics what Tim’s first book, Elemental, does for chemistry: it demystifies the topic in his trademark humorous, engaging style, including the most recent developments in the field.
At the start of the twentieth century, science appeared complete and the laws of nature were almost all discovered, but then we woke a sleeping giant – we discovered quantum mechanics.
In the quantum realm, objects can be in two places at once. It’s a place where time travel is not only possible, but necessary. It’s a place where cause and effect can happen in reverse and observing something changes its state. From parallel universes to antimatter, quantum mechanics has revealed that when you get right down to it, the laws of nature are insane. The scientist J. B. S. Haldane once said, ‘Reality is not only stranger than we imagine . . . it’s stranger than we canimagine.’ Never is this more true than with quantum mechanics; our best, most recent attempt to make sense of the fundamental laws of nature.
Fundamental is a comprehensive beginner’s guide to quantum mechanics, explaining not only the weirdness of the subject but the experiments that proved it to be true. Using a humorous and light-hearted approach, Fundamental tells the story of how the most brilliant minds in science grappled with seemingly impossible ideas and gave us everything from microchips to particle accelerators. Fundamental gives clear explanations of all the quantum phenomena known to modern science, without requiring an understanding of complex mathematics; tells the eccentric stories of the scientists who made these shattering discoveries and what they used them for; explains how quantum field theory (a topic not covered in detail by any other popular-science book) gave rise to particle physics and why the Higgs boson isn’t the end of the story.
Tim James’ Elemental was an excellent foray into the periodic table and gave me some really incredible insights into the science behind all the elements that make up the universe. I had the same high hopes for Fundamental and I was relieved when I discovered that TJ had taken the same approach to Quantum Mechanics and was excited to get stuck in.
‘Suppose someone told you to picture a four-sided triangle, or to think of a number that is smaller than ten but bigger than a billion. Those instructions are not complicated but you could not easily follow them because they are nonsensical. This is what our journey into quantum physics is going to look like. It is a world of four-sided triangles and numbers that do not follow ordinary rules; a place where parallel universes and paradoxes lurk around every corner and objects do not have to pay attention to space or time.’
Fundamental – Tim James
Tim James’ Fundamental is an outstanding introduction to the seemingly unapproachable world of Quantum Mechanics. It’s an every-persons guide containing all the necessary and important developments in the history of subatomic particle research. A narrative style explanation of the mind-bending efforts that key scientists put into unifying (or disproving) the many theories and interpretations of the how this universe truly functions. A book filled with enough wit and humour to break the ice surrounding a bizarre and unpredictable subject for a more general audience.
Fundamental managed to teach me a shed load about Quantum Mechanics, insights that I would never have had the ability to process in its more raw form. Tim James has decided to leave the mathematics to one side (though they do make important appearances) and instead delivers a systematic narrative description of the development of Quantum Mechanics that keenly paints a picture of where the scientific community stands in its understanding of subatomic particles and their behaviour.
Did I understand it all? Not a chance. There is a ton of information to be unpacked here but I am impressed how well TJ kept my attention as it is not an easy subject to chat somewhat casually about. But TJ’s passion for science is inspiring and it was easy to follow his lead when delving into the absurd yet fascinating depth of Quantum Mechanics. Tim James makes it clear in the introduction that it is the bizarre qualities of Quantum Mechanics not the complexity itself that makes it a more difficult area of science to gain clarity in.
Fundamental takes us back to the beginning where quantum theory broke away from the more classical physics way of thinking and began to dazzle the greatest minds in the world with its magic. Minds like Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, Neils Bohr and the game-changing talent of Amalie ‘Emmy’ Noether (who wiped the floor with her male colleagues).
Fundamental explores and explains theories like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the measurement problem, quantum entanglement, Schrodinger’s Cat, teleportation and general relativity, to name just a few of many compelling points in this book. I feel less bad about not understanding as much of Quantum Mechanics as I had wanted too because it is hard even for superior intellects to get a satisfying grasp on the abilities of the many (many) particles, bosons, quarks and neutrinos, that don’t follow the rules most of the time.
TJ takes us through the history, the contradictions, interpretations, team-ups, disagreements, boundless vital discoveries and frustrating unanswered questions surrounding Quantum Mechanics. What works, what doesn’t and what still remains to be unified I’m talking about you gravity. Detailing each area with an impressive amount of simplicity without taking any triumph out of how far we have come. I liked TJ’s clever quips, gentle sarcasm and nerdy twists on the base material. He definitely ticks all the chicke… I mean boxes. TJ clearly cares about science a great deal but he is not afraid to mix it up with some pop culture or eccentric re-imaginings. TJ’s analogies are some of the best in the business. I laughed so much at lines like ‘step back, Alby, ya boi Schrodinger’s got this’ and ‘so buckle up, baby, we’re gonna get math-tastic.’
Fundamental covers all the bases of both the past and current efforts to understand the universe on a subatomic level in a fluid and interesting way. TJ keeps it cool for most of the book, step by step uncovering a layered model of the evolution of Quantum Mechanics and only really lost me when divulging all the known types of particles which got intense and complex very fast. Lots of spinning and dizziness. If you appreciate science and want to understand the world around you, get up to speed on modern research and chuckle at some bad jokes then Fundamental is absolutely written for you. (Oh the conclusion to this book with all the key dates was a perfect way to sum it all up, so thank you TJ).
Quantum Mechanics blur the lines between what is and isn’t possible and it is a deeply fascinating subject that I would hate for anyone to miss out in so I highly recommend Fundamental to all types of readers. It is satisfying to have knowledge of one of the most iconic scientific fields of all time and I can’t wait to bother everyone with my many updated views on the groundbreaking science that is happening all around us right now.
About Tim James
TIM JAMES is a secondary-school science teacher, YouTuber, blogger and Instagrammer. Raised by missionaries in Nigeria, he fell in love with science at the age of fifteen and refuses to get over his infatuation. After graduating with a Master’s degree in chemistry, specialising in computational quantum mechanics, he decided to get straight into the classroom. His first book, Elemental: How the Periodic Table Now Explains (Nearly) Everything was published in July 2018.