Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time. Cheers, Fred.
The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of: The Most Astounding Papers on Quantum Physics and How They Shook the Scientific World
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Stephen Hawking may well be the most highly celebrated and recognized scientist of our time. This book has papers published during the first five decades of quantum-physics surprises. This was a gift book. (For his other books I've read, click on his name.)
This thick hardback’s flaps have this summary: “God does not play dice with the universe,” So said Albert Einstein in response to the first discoveries that launched quantum physics, as they suggested a random universe that seemed to violate the laws of common sense. This 20th-century scientific revolution completely shattered Newtonian laws, inciting a crisis of thought that challenged scientists to think differently about matter and subatomic particles.
“The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of compiles the essential works from scientists who sparked the paradigm shift that changed the face of physics forever, pushing our understanding of the universe on to an entirely new level of comprehension. Gathered in this anthology is the scholarship that shocked and befuddled the scientific world, including works by Neils Bohr, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Erwin Schrodinger, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, as well as an Introduction by today’s most celebrated scientist, Stephen Hawking.”
The above statements contain words of publishing hype that represent neither the writing style nor the speaking style of these scientists. But it is true that their apparent outer calmness hid, for many but not all, much befuddlement. But many were very happy as the new paradigm explained much recently seen atomic data patterns that classical physics couldn’t explain. In my Ph.D. studies at Indiana University in the mid 60’s, my major professor had a longer list of old papers for his grad students to read. He wanted us to see the historical way quantum physics grew, which was, of course, not the smooth and orderly way that physics textbooks present things. Although Hawking’s selection leaves out some things on the list I have read, I now have Hawking’s collection, for at IU we went to the physics library to follow my major prof’s longer list. I still recall the many typos in these papers that are not corrected in book 461; when in words they are usually easily spotted, but when in equations, of which there are very many, typos are often hard to spot. So often we couldn’t deduce for ourselves why we couldn’t reproduce equations that followed another equation. I find it hard to swallow that Hawking didn’t have someone correct these serious typos – this would have been an effort that would improve this book by a significant amount for someone who could follow the math.
The Amazon webpage for this book is
The book’s four pages of Contents (which you can read online by using the option Click to LOOK INSIDE) show that Stephen Hawking organized the book into nine chapters. In each of these nine he begins with a brief introduction about the papers (ranging from 2 to 7) in the chapter. His introductions aren’t listed in the Contents, but for every chapter he gives the full title and author(s) of the papers. I suggest that you read all 4-pp of Hawking’s introduction to Ch. 1, which nicely summarizes the three papers in Ch. 1, for it shows you the role of Hawking in this book.
To my regret, this book has no index. I would have been quite useful for comparing different ways of expressing or “seeing” (via math or figures – languages important to the science of physics) some of the different viewpoints among the several well-known authors.
The chapter I call special attention to is Ch 9. It has the longest (pp. 834-965) paper – Problems of Atomic Dynamics by Max Born, from 1925 and the paper most suited for a nonscientist – Excerpts from Thirty Years that Shook Physics (Chapters I and IV) by George Gamow. In the era up to 1925, some very important discoveries were unknown and thus not covered by Born (such as an electron being a particle with spin-1/2 and thus having two possible spin orientations, nor the existence of the neutron), but even so, Born summarized some observed atomic effects due to spin-1/2 electrons. I found it of historical interest to read Born‘s summary to recall what was the degree of understanding of atomic structure at that time.
As for the two chapters from George Gamow’s book, they make one hunger for more, for he was an exceptionally gifted writer to inform non-scientists. The book from which Stephen Hawking excerpted the two chapters is Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory, George Gamov, 1985, Dover Publications, 219 pp. I think it would be a much better choice for a nonscientist to reads this book to learn quantum physics. I’ve read other books by George Gamow that helped me decide to be a physicist rather than an electrical engineer. (Perhaps it’s time for me to reread some Gamow to find a good book on quantum physics to recommend to a nonscientist.)
I conclude by strongly recommending this book (of early quantum history via physics papers) by Stephen Hawking to scientists – physicists and chemists – and mathematicians, many of whom were indispensable in helping physicists handle quantum theory. These professionals might find book 461 interesting, albeit it incomplete in its coverage and with no typos corrected. To them I give this book a rating of three stars.