David Lindley’s Uncertainty

I finished reading David Lindley’s Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the struggle for the soul of science. It is a short book running into 230 pages or so and makes a good and easy reading. However, I did not enjoy the book in spite of what Doug Natelson and Chad Orzel had to say about it.

As a matter of fact, I specifically did not like the character sketches that Lindley offers of various scientists (which sounded too caricaturish to me), though both Natelson and Orzel seem to have liked it:

It’s a compelling story, though there are no major surprises: Heisenberg was ludicrously bright; Bohr was incapable of writing a short, declarative statement; Pauli was a sarcastic bastard who could get away with it because he was brilliant; Einstein was already the grand old man. (Natelson)

Where the book really shines, though, is in presenting the personalities of the people involved in the making of the theory. Lindley includes brief character sketches of all the important players, and enough anecdotes to give a good sense of what they were like. You get the maddeningly evasive and philosophical Bohr, the standoffish Heisenberg, the prickly Max Born. There are also nice portraits of Einstein as a cranky conservative, Schr√∂dinger the utter cad (unsurprisingly, he got on well with Einstein), and the extremely sarcastic Pauli. Pretty much anyone who’s anyone in the history of quantum theory shows up, and they all get their due. (Orzel)

Having said that, if you can ignore Lindley’s descriptions of these scientists–in case, like me, you do not enjoy such descriptions a lot–you will enjoy the book.

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