# The Best Books on: The Golden Age of Quantum Physics

Hi there.

Although a lot of my writing about physics has been about Einstein and his work, the history of quantum mechanics comes up quite often as well. This not necessarily intentionally. Although generally associated with the names Heisenberg, Born, Schrödinger and Dirac, there is a lot of overlap in the history of quantum mechanics with other historical figures and topics. For instance, von Neumann is perhaps best known as a brilliant mathematician who did work on computing, game theory and AI—less so for being the person who formulated much of the mathematical foundation for quantum mechanics. Similar for Oppenheimer, who is known as the Head of the Manhattan Project and the Director of the IAS, not as a brilliant researcher on quantum mechanics in Göttingen in the 1920s—and one of Dirac’s closest friends. Indeed, as I tried to convey in my essay *The Center of the Mathematical Universe,* quite a few of the figures featured prominently in the history of 19th and early 20th-century mathematics and physics spend time in Göttingen during the time of the invention of quantum mechanics. Norbert Wiener even visited in 1925-26.

The following are the books I would acquire if I wanted to absorb the history of quantum mechanics as thoroughly and enjoyably as possible.

### 1. The Heroic Age: The Creation of Quantum Mechanics, 1925—1940 (2018)

by Robert D. Purrington

This is a beautiful book that anyone should want on their bookshelf. It covers the history of quantum mechanics through the lens of the scientific achievements from 1925-40.

**Type**: Narrative | **Years**: 1925-40 | **Price**: $82

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### 2. Quantum. Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality (2007)

by Manjit Kumar

There are a lot of different versions of this book. Considered a bible of sorts, it captures the history of quantum mechanics from the early breakthroughs of Planck and Einstein at the turn of the century up until second world war. Although the title emphasizes *The Bohr-Einstein Debate*, the book captures a much wider narrative.

**Type**: Narrative | **Years**: 1900-1940 | **Price**: $31

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### 3. The End of the Certain World. The Life and Science of Max Born (2005)

by Nancy Thorndike Greenspan

It is difficult to overestimate the impact of Max Born in the quantum revolution. Although it was Heisenberg who formulated matrix mechanics, Born was the one to see the larger implications and include Heisenberg’s breakthrough in a larger research program at the University of Göttingen. Written by Nancy Thorndike Greenspan, this is a genuinely well crafted biography of one of science’s most influential yet often forgotten names.

**Type**: Biography | **Years**: 1880-1970 | **Price**: $15

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### 4. Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution (2012)

by John Gribbin

Schrödinger is one of those names, like Einstein, who is intimately associated with quantum mechanics for his formulation of the Schrödinger equation and the thought experiment Schrödinger’s cat. Yet, as you can imagine, his influence on the development of quantum theory ran both wider and deeper. This is the best biography of his life, in my opinion.

**Type**: Biography | **Years**: 1880-1960 | **Price**: $13

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### 5. Thirty Years that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory (1966)

by George Gamow

This books, like Quantum, tackles the history from Planck and Einstein’s early discoveries through the 1920s. Like Quantum, the narrative is presented through the lens both of the discoveries and their discoverers. A much shorter, yet very accessible read.

**Type**: Narrative | **Years**: 1900-1930 | **Price**: $13

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## Other books

There are of course, many other good books on the history of quantum mechanics. Below, some are listed. As a writer, The Born-Einstein Letters are incredibly fascinating to me, as is the biography of Oppenheimer by Bird & Sherwin. Heisenberg’s book Physics and Philosophy is much more accessible than one would imagine.

*The Strangest Man*by Graham Farmelo*Paul Dirac: The Man and his Work*by Pais, Jacob, Olive & Atiyah*American Prometheus*by Bird & Sherwin*The Born-Einstein Letters*by Max Born*Physics and Philosophy*by Werner Heisenberg

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Thank you for reading *Privatdozent*.

Sincerely,

Jørgen

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Thank you for the wonderful selection. I have read the one by Kumar.

Thanks for the list! Picked up #3 and #5 to start with. #1 on wishlist but hope to skim through it first.