Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution by John R Gribbin

John R. Gribbin is a British science writer, an astrophysicist. He has written both biographical works and science fiction.
In this book we read of the life of Schrodinger, best known for his eponymous cat paradox.
From the dust cover: “The first accessible, in-depth biography of the Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Takes you into the heart of the quantum revolution and explains the captivating world of quantum mechanics, which underpins all of modern science.”
My review: biographies of scientists who shaped the last century’s breakthroughs in physics are fascinating because it gives an insight into the often very volatile period of change, theory, experimentation and argument. This aspect was not advertised when I was learning about the Schrödinger equation or quantum mechanics. At the time of my education it was presented as a given fact that could just as well have been written on two stone tablets. Gribbin’s biography is a blend of science history and revelations about Schrödinger. He had a colorful life and engaged in relationships in ways that are surprising but it is not made clear what impact this had on those concerned on an emotional level. As a biography the book lacks a little of the emotional insight into the man Schrödinger although it is clear he is a lover of women, the great outdoors and financial security.
On the subject of science history there are some excellent commentaries included about the personalities and how their subjective views led the debate on the objective but abstract new world of quantum mechanics and the problems associated with the wave, particle dualism that experiment threw up around the sub atomic ‘particles’. It is fascinating to consider that strength of personality and personal popularity play such a massive role in the rate at which theory develops. Indeed in one example the sheer inability to pay for publication in a highly respected journal leads to several years before important ideas are picked up.
There is some attempt in the book to discuss the underlying science and to an extent Gribbin does a good job at illuminating this bizarre world. Probably, to readers who already have a strong grasp of quantum mechanics this will be very instructive, to those like me who have learned but a little it is at times helpful, and to those who have not looked at the subject it will probably be baffling.


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