Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Tale of Two Book Reviews

I mentioned my disagreement and discomfort with an earlier review of "The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn" by Louisa Gilder. What was written in that review presented either erroneous view of physics, or something completely far out that appears to reveal the author to be someone who only understood her subject matter superficially.

Now, along comes another review of the same book. Compare to the earlier review, this one sounds benign, and almost completely positive.

Culling the letters, journals and published articles of the most accomplished scientific minds of the past two centuries, Gilder creates a movingly human and surprisingly accessible picture of the unveiling of the quantum universe—one of the most infuriating, counter-intuitive and yet crucial concepts of all time.

There's no interview with the author to reveal what she knows (or don't know) about quantum mechanics, and no silly extrapolation of QM into weird areas like "telepathy". If I had read only something like this, it would have been a book that I would have recommended and may even try to read.

This whole episode is an example on how doing a book tour or publicity can backfire.



Anonymous said...

I have decided that that one review itself was bad, and I think they must have been mis-paraphrasing her. Not uncommon when a nonscientist reporter is trying to translate the discussions of someone, the author in this case, who, while not a formal scientist herself, is nonetheless speaking in the language of science.

I just met the author at the book event today. I'm a trained physicist (high energy theory), and she knew her stuff very well, especially for someone without a lot of formal training. I was expecting the worst after your earlier mention of that bad book review, but I can assure you that there was no mumbo jumbo in the talk at all.

Of course, from the audience, there were a few metaphysical/religious/crackpot questions, as well as a few good questions too, but the author was very measured and careful and didn't say anything outlandish at all in responding to them. She was well prepared, well researched, (a little nervous at speaking in public, too) and the book is delightful. If you want to know what all these guys decades ago were actually thinking when they were coming up with quantum mechanics, what their day-to-day lives and struggles were like, then I encourage you to pick it up. The author admits that there are a few mistakes, but worked very hard to keep everything reasonable and within the bounds of appropriate discourse.

I'm very happy that you've backtracked your earlier posting. Maybe now you'll give the book a look? :)

ZapperZ said...

Thanks very much for the comment, and also the report of the author's book event. You've added an additional perspective not only on the book, but also on the author.

And yes,I may have been a bit too harsh on the author based on that particular interview, even though the focus of my earlier comment was directed at the review itself.

I may have to see if I can find the book based on your evaluation. Thanks again.