Book Review: QED – The Strange Theory of Light and Matter


Georges Lteif

Georges Lteif

Software Engineer

Last Updated on January 11, 2022.
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5 min read


Who Should Read This Book

This book is for anyone who enjoys popular science material that is exceptionally well-written by legendary figures such as Richard Feynman. If you also have an interest in Quantum Computing and would like to understand some of the physics behind it, this is the book to read.

Synopsis

Richard Feynman is well-known for his teaching style but also for his legendary contribution to popular science. His books are insightful and highly enjoyable.

This particular book is based on three lectures that Richard Feynman gave on the topic of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), the Strange Theory of Light and Matter, which won him the Nobel prize for physics in 1965 along with two colleagues Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga.

Quantum mechanics is a fascinating, yet highly unintuitive, topic and it takes the unique pedagogical skills, that Feynman is most famous for, to popularize it.

The subject of quantum mechanics is not highly relevant in our everyday activities but it has gained wide interest because of the magnificent strides that were made in the last couple of years by Quantum Computing machines.

Some of these machines are now commercialised and can perform optimization problems called Quantum Annealing.

The book is divided into 4 chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Photons – Particles of Light
  • Chapter 3: Electrons and Their Interactions
  • Chapter 4: Loose Ends

In the first chapter of the book, the author provides an introduction to the physics of light. Most interestingly, he gives an in-depth analysis of the nature of the theory of Quantum Mechanics, a highly controversial topic even today.

He also discusses in chapter one the tools, mathematical and otherwise, as well as a few physics concepts such as the nature of light and reflection, that will be very useful for understanding how QED works.

The second part of the book talks exclusively about light, its nature, properties, and behaviour under various conditions. Richard Feynman brilliantly describes the reflection of light in a mirror, the double split experiment, and how to explain and predict the behaviour of photons in these experiments and others.

The third part of the book is the most “magical”. This is where the author addresses the bizarre nature of the photon-electron interactions.

In the fourth and final chapter, Feynman moves on to talk about two topics. the first topic is about what’s missing in the theory of QED. The second topic is all about quarks, neutrinos, gluons, and other elementary particles of the subatomic world and the strange methods scientists use to calculate and explain their interactions.


Key Metrics

Original Content
95%
Practical Usage
50%
Depth
70%
Authority
100%
Writing Style
100%
Accessibility
80%

Quick Review

Highly Recommended

Format

The book is nicely broken down into 4 chapters: an introduction, a chapter on light, another on light-electron interactions, and a concluding chapter on the QED. It’s a relatively small book, with a very narrow focus on QED.

Style

Richard Feynman’s legendary teaching style is well-known in the science world. He is extremely gifted when it comes to explaining 21st-century physics to science enthusiasts and students alike.

Content

The lectures documented in this book were created by Feynman on a topic which he understood best. They were intended for an audience of physics enthusiasts who, perhaps, were not equipped to understand the complex mathematics of Quantum Mechanics.


Format

Edition Details

PAPERBACK

Kindle
ISBN-13: 978-0-140-12505-4
20 x 13 x 0.5 cm
158 pages


Themes


Content

Structure

The book is divided into 4 chapters. The structure of the book is clear. Each chapter is pretty much self-contained although the subsequent chapters build on previous ones. The book is small enough, is not overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination given the nature of its content.

Original Content

Richard Feynman’s immense contributions to science in general, and the Theory of Quantum Electrodynamics in particular, make the content of this book highly original. His insights, thorough understanding, and great fluency in quantum mechanics make his lectures truly unique.

General Tone

This book and the lectures it documents were intended for a group of science enthusiasts who probably had limited capabilities in understanding the complex math and concepts behind Quantum Mechanics. Therefore, the general tone of this book can best be described as a slow and meticulous unravelling of the basic concepts of QED and a peek into its advanced concepts.

Practical Usage

This book is a great read for anyone interested in Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Computing, or science in general. As a science enthusiast myself, I found the book profoundly helpful in bringing this topic closer.

Depth

The author take the reader into an in-depth analysis of the ideas and concepts of Quantum Electrodynamics. Although it is a popular science book, devoid of any mathematics, it does a magnificent job in explaining the theory to the layman without getting lost in the details. Quantum Mechanics has a philosophical aspect to it in the sense of what it actually means and how best it is to be understood (is Quantum Mechanics a convenient tool for making predictions or more than that?). This book sticks to the practical side of things.

Authority

The author reputation is legendary when it comes to the subject of Quantum Mechanics and QED. He shared a Nobel prize with two of his colleagues on the same topic.


Style

Genre

The book can be classified under popular science.

Writing Style

The author’s writing style is clear and concise. His perfect mastery of the topic and unique teaching style is nowhere better visible than in his books and recorded lectures.

Accessibility

This book is meant for everyone. Aside from a few, very basic notions of vector algebra, probability theory, and quantum physics, this book does not require much to be read and understood. The more knowledge the reader has in quantum physics, however, the more enjoyable the read.


Author

Bio

From Wikipedia:

Richard Phillips Feynman (/ˈfaɪnmən/; May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as his work in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model. For contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga.

Publications