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Book Review:
The Quantum Zoo: A Tourist's Guide to the Neverending
by Marcus Chown
Copyright © 2006
Joseph Henry Press
ISBN 0-309-09622-7
$24.95 US
cover image

After reading countless books claiming to explain quantum theory and relativity to "dummies" - and ending up baffled! - Marcus thought "There's got to be a better way". As Einstein said: "Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone." Marcus was convinced he was right - so he wrote this book. Learn how the entire human race could fit in the volume of a sugar cube; how every breath you take contains an atom breathed out by Marilyn Monroe; how 1% of the static on a TV tuned between the stations is from the big bang...


"An entertaining little gem that leads the reader through many of the wonders of twentieth century physics with a light and sometimes quirky touch that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is so full of little insights and neat analogies that I found myself folding over the top corners of countless pages containing quotable passages. What is remarkable is the number of new ways Marcus Chown has found to explain difficult and often abstract concepts.This is what good popular science writing is all about."
      Jim Al-Khalili, University of Surrey (Nature, 13 April 2006)

"Marcus Chown rocks! Quantum theory and relativity normally evoke a shudder of fear in the mind of the Man in the Street. 'Isn't this way to difficult for me to understand?' Well, no more! In this elegantly written book, Marcus Chown takes you to the heart of the most challenging concepts known to man and makes you feel that understanding is truly within your grasp."
      Brian May (Guitarist "Queen" and astrophysicist)

"Chown admirably takes on the task of elucidating two of the most commonsense-defying concepts in modern science: quantum mechanics and relativity. He divulges the mysteries hidden in the very building blocks of matter, piques reader curiosity with every question and then satisfies it using language that is light, companionable and full of wonder. From why tables are solid when atoms contain lots of empty space, to the fact that gravity isn't a real force and you age faster the higher up you are, Chown touches on the intriguing consequences of quantum mechanics and relativity. The success of any popular science book about these unfathomable realities hinges upon the deployment of metaphor and imagery; in this, the author stands out. Readers who want to know what the big deal is about quantum mechanics but want to avoid more nitty-gritty examples (such as black body radiation) will find a clear window into the utter strangeness that defines our universe."
      Publishers Weekly, 9 January 2006

"You age faster at the top of a skyscraper than you do on the ground floor. Marcus Chown uses startling facts to illustrate the strange consequences of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Popular books on quantum theory and relativity are plentiful, so it is a welcome relief to find a fresh approach. Each chapter begins with a short vignette that highlights how bizarre the key ideas in modern physics are and then describes them in a non-technical way. An entertaining romp for those who want to get to grips with physics, yet struggle with standard explanations."
      New Scientist, 25 March 2006

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