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Totally Random Why Nobody Understands Quantum Mechanics (A Serious Comic on Entanglement)

Tanya Bub and Jeffrey Bub
Princeton University Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Ittay Weiss
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Quantum mechanics had made the leap from a controversial new theory bordering on the insane to an accepted doctrine that is finding more and more real-world applications. With commercial quantum computers looming in the not too far off future, books attempting to bring the bizarre world of the very tiny to the general public's rudimentary understanding should be met with enthusiasm.

Knowing more about the mathematics of quantum physics than actual physics and having a keen interest in the historical perspectives of scientific discoveries enthusiasm was plentiful when I set out to read the book. However, while I'm sure I qualify as a nerd, I had never, in fact, read a comic book before. I needed some help and so asked my daughter if she would read the book with me. Her unquenchable thirst for science, in whatever form, meant not a moment's hesitation before gleefully agreeing.

When we started reading the book one of the first things we noticed was that it was rather dark in appearance, but nothing that strong light didn't solve. Getting acquainted with the characters and the style was quite fun and the first quantum adventure, the weirdness of quantum coins, a well-chosen analogy to explain entanglement, set the stage quite clearly.

The authors seem to have chosen a narration style which mirrors their perception of how mad quantum physics is and the feeling of the comics is bordering on the hallucinatory chaotic. However, readers not already familiar with the historical developments will thus miss on many of the puns and ironies built into the conversations between the characters (the main figures involved in the early days of quantum physics). A further problem is the style of humor. Amusing at first, but unless you find juvenile cursing and fighting to be extremely funny, you'll probably grow tired of the monotonous attempt to make you smile by means of yet another rude comment made by Einstein, Pauli, or the cat.

Unfortunately, the book does not do a great job in conveying the principles of quantum physics to the uninitiated. In fact, there is a danger that the casual reader will exit the journey, which can be fun for some, not only with no solid understanding of any actual principle of physics but with a perception that science, at least this portion of it, is totally crazy. Reinforcing a feeling that quantum physics is an unfathomable discipline which is beyond the understanding of anybody is unfortunate. Total randomness is woven into the very fabric of the universe and we are getting along quite well en route to understanding it.

To conclude, we find the book to be amusing to a degree and the adventure involving famous physicists in bizarre scenarios quite fun. However, an added value in the form of even a superficial understanding of science is lacking. If you already know some of the developments and wish to embark on a bonkers journey strewn with shallow humor, you may like the book. If you're after actually learning a bit of physics or the history of the early days of quantum physics, we're afraid the comic just doesn't cut it.

Ittay Weiss is a Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, UK.



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