Banesh Hoffmann: Strange But True
Though Banesh Hoffmann spent most of his teaching career at Queens College in New York, as a young man he worked with Albert Einstein and other members of the Einstein generation at Princeton, and so he was ideally situated to make the attempt to explain quantum theory to the layman. First published in 1947, the first edition of Hoffmann's book carried the unwieldy subtitle, "An Account for the General Reader of the Growth of the Ideas Underlying our Present Atomic Knowledge." Continuously in print since it first appeared, the book ― along with George Gamow's Thirty Years That Shook Physics, also long a Dover book ― seems to have mostly succeeded. In any case, almost every reader could at least derive some enjoyment from passages such as the one above. At Dover we were privileged to enjoy Professor Hoffmann's urbane and witty conversation directly as he often visited us into the 1980s while serving as an occasional advisor and consultant.
From the Book:
"It did not cause anxiety that Maxwell's equations did not apply to gravitation, since nobody expected to find any link between electricity and gravitation at that particular level. But now physics was faced with an entirely new situation. The same entity, light, was at once a wave and a particle. How could one possibly imagine its proper size and shape? To produce interference it must be spread out, but to bounce off electrons it must be minutely localized. This was a fundamental dilemma, and the stalemate in the wave-photon battle meant that it must remain an enigma to trouble the soul of every true physicist. It was intolerable that light should be two such contradictory things. It was against all the ideals and traditions of science to harbor such an unresolved dualism gnawing at its vital parts. Yet the evidence on either side could not be denied, and much water was to flow beneath the bridges before a way out of the quandary was to be found. The way out came as a result of a brilliant counterattack initiated by the wave theory, but to tell of this now would spoil the whole story. It is well that the reader should appreciate through personal experience the agony of the physicists of the period. They could but make the best of it, and went around with woebegone faces sadly complaining that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they must look on light as a wave; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as a particle. On Sundays they simply prayed."
Critical Acclaim for The Strange Story of the Quantum:
"The informal and pleasant style of writing facilitates concentration on the subject matter, of which the discussions are regularly accurate, illuminating and provocative." ― Paul Bender, Chemistry and Engineering News
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