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We've seen our most fundamental beliefs about the nature of the universe change so many times over the past century that it's almost old hat. Danish science historian Helge Kragh looks at these revolutions and their effects in Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century. This well-told series of interlocking stories skillfully blends hard science with biography; Kragh intends to reach a broad audience and succeeds in maintaining interest on all levels. Starting in the 10 years before 1900, he shows us that the state of physics was not as moribund as textbooks would have us believe--in fact, much of the groundwork for the revelations of relativity and quantum mechanics was laid then. Moving along through the highlights of the past hundred years, we read of Heisenberg, Lorentz, Feynman, and many more scientists building on their predecessors' work.
Only the most pathologically math-phobic need fear this book; Kragh has done nonphysicists a favor by restricting his scientific discussions to terms understandable by most well-informed readers. Though he does neglect certain important fields (e.g., optics and materials science), the cohesion and relative brevity resulting from this decision make for a better book. Whether you have an abiding interest in the roots of modern physics or want to learn more about recent developments in unification theories, you'll find Quantum Generations a pleasant yet challenging review. --Rob Lightner
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