Uncertainty

  • by David Lindley
  • Narrated by Robert Blumenfeld
  • 7 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Werner Heisenberg's "uncertainty principle" challenged centuries of scientific understanding, placed him in direct opposition to Albert Einstein, and put Niels Bohr in the middle of one of the most heated debates in scientific history. Heisenberg's theorem stated that there were physical limits to what we could know about sub-atomic particles; this "uncertainty" would have shocking implications.In a riveting account, David Lindley captures this critical episode and explains one of the most important scientific discoveries in history, which has since transcended the boundaries of science and influenced everything from literary theory to television.

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Audible Editor Reviews

A quick Google search is enough to suggest that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is the most widely referenced theory in modern physics. It is frequently employed by academics in virtually every field, to discuss the challenges inherent to studying history, or government, or literature, to name a few. The famous principle even makes its way into entirely non-academic settings; for example, it was recently invoked by actor Steve Martin to explain the effect of the public eye on a star's private life.
Frequent extra-scientific application aside, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is important because of its profound implications for science. In Uncertainty, author David Lindley brings those implications to light through a compelling, concise narrative of early 20th-century physics. Narrator Robert Blumenfeld delivers a robust, congenial reading notable — like Lindley's prose — for both its explanatory and storytelling power.
Uncertainty follows a sizeable shift in human thought, with all its accompanying tension and turmoil. Lindley tracks the entrance of unpredictability into the world of science, from its faint whispers in kinetic theory to its clear, undisputable voice in the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
While focusing on the development of theory, Lindley creates a dynamic portrait of the scientific process by drawing on the events and people that shape it. Employing a remarkable talent for a variety of accents, Blumenfeld develops this cast of brilliant, bizarre characters — including Bohr, Schrodinger, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Born — with consistency and charm.
The authenticity of Lindley's narrative is enhanced by his use of primary source data. He often allows his characters to speak for themselves, favoring the original voice over paraphrase even when their words are not in English. Blumenfeld handles these languages — primarily German and French — with apparent fluency, adding richness to the auditory experience of the story. —Emily Elert

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What the Critics Say

"Lindley brilliantly captures the personalities and the science surrounding the most revolutionary principle in modern physics. At stake are our deepest philosophical beliefs about reality. This book is so lucid that the issues are not merely understandable but truly thrilling." (Walter Isaacson)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

fascinating insight into the real drama of physics

The early 20th century was by no means an orderly, calm period in the world of theoretical physics. New discoveries in relativity and quantum mechanics were casting increasing doubt on classical physics. Scientists were learning that some phenomena, taking place at the unseeable atomic level, seemed not to be deterministic and predictable, but probabilistic and not so predictable.

Uncertainty provides an informative overview of the major players during this era, and explores the disarray that a changing state of knowledge brought to the physics community, with some more conservative figures, such as Einstein, advocating caution and their own belief that the universe could not truly be so disorderly, and younger physicists, such as Heisenberg, rejecting scientific orthodoxy and searching for the answers in more radical ideas. While I'm sure there are better books about physics and better biographies of famous scientists, this one does capture the division that quantum mechanics brought about among most the brilliant, legendary physicists, and their all-too human arguments as they struggled to make sense of its paradigm-shaking implications. The author also notes the background of political and social unrest taking place in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, raising the question of how much this drama may have been a part of the soul of the scientific drama.

An interesting book.
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- Ryan

Great ideas...in context

I really enjoyed this book. The narrator did a great job of bringing alive the scientists who were involved in the great ideas the led to the development of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

The story is told in a way that permits the listener to grasp complex subjects, but not be overwhelmed by those topics.
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- John

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-15-2009
  • Publisher: Audible Studios