Einstein and the Quantum wins The Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science

EinsteinCongratulations are in order for author A. Douglas Stone as the Phi Beta Kappa Society recently announced Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian was selected for the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science.

It is a tremendous honor to be recognized this way by Phi Beta Kappa which is “the nation’s oldest and most recognized academic honor society…Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression.”

One of three awards (the other two being The Christian Gauss Award and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award), the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science recognizes “outstanding contributions by scientists to the literature of science.” Notable winners of the award include scientists James Gleick, Brian Greene, Stephen Jay Gould, and Nate Silver.

Of Einstein and the Quantum, one Selection Panel member said, “I wish I’d had this book to read when I was an undergraduate. Statistical mechanics and thermodynamics are taught as such dry topics… [this book] brings the subject to life.” Again, we are thrilled to congratulate A. Douglas Stone on this amazing achievement.

Einstein’s Real Breakthrough: Quantum Theory

Thank you to Yale University for recording this fantastic interview between A. Douglas Stone and Ramamurti Shankar.

People may be surprised to hear that Einstein could well be the father of quantum theory in addition to the father of relativity. In part this is because Einstein ultimately rejected quantum theory, but also because there is very little published evidence of his work. However, as he researched his new book Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian, Stone discovered letters and correspondence with other scientists that demonstrate the extent of Einstein’s influence in this area.

If you would like to learn more about Einstein’s contributions to quantum theory, grab a copy of Einstein and the Quantum which you can sample here.

PUP News of the World

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Welcome to the next edition of our brand new series, PUP News of the World! Every week we will be posting a round-up of all of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!


THE BEST OF THE BEST

As we near the end of 2013–where did the year go?–we’ve entered the season of “Best of” lists. Princeton University Press is excited to highlight just some of the most recent titles that have been featured as the best of the past year.

Anat Admati & Martin Hellwig start it off as THE BANKERS’ NEW CLOTHES is included in The WSJ Best Nonfiction of 2013″ roundup. What separates this title from the pack? “In a year of important books about the recent economic crisis, the most important one told us simply how to stop the next one,” says the WSJ. Interested in learning more? Check out chapter one.

Mike Tyson, whose new book was released earlier this fall, pointed to a PUP book as one of his favorites of 2013. THE QUOTABLE KIERKEGAARD, edited by Gordon Marino, is a “collection of awesome quotes from that great Danish philosopher,” Tyson says.

The English translation of THE PLUM IN THE GOLDEN VASE was finally completed when PUP released the fifth volume this fall. Tash Aw names David Tod Roy’s translation as one of his favorites of the year, saying that this last volume “completes the joyous rediscovery of a genuine masterpiece.” See the full entries for both Tyson and Aw here in the Wall Street Journal‘s “12 Months of Reading” article.

For the scientists in the bunch, EINSTEIN AND THE QUANTUM is another 2013 favorite. Science Friday’s Ira Flatow named the book as one of his favorites, and Jennifer Oullette picked it for her list on Cocktail Party Physics. Have that “Einstein curiosity” about this title? Hear more from author A. Douglas Stone on this Physics Central Podcast.

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings selects ITALO CALVINO: Letters as one of her “Best Books on Writing and Creativity 2013.” Popova called the book “an absolute treasure trove in its entirety — the most profound intersection of writing, philosophy, and literary voyeurism since Susan Sontag’s journals and the diary of Anaïs Nin.” PUP is releasing a paperback edition this spring.

To round out our bunch–or should we say batch–we turn to the beloved cookbook by Merry White, which was re-released in a 40th Anniversary Edition this fall. COOKING FOR CROWDS is named one of the Atlantic‘s “Best Food Books of 2013.” Illustrated by the New Yorker‘s Ed Koren, this charming book offers simple, step-by-step instructions for easy cooking and entertaining on a grand scale–from hors d’oeuvres to desserts. Corby Kummer says:

“Not just enormously charming but useful, full of sturdy recipes that can still seem mildly exotic no matter how much we flatter ourselves at the sophistication of our palates….This is more, that is, than an artifact of Brooklyn avant la lettre. It’s full of practical dishes and tricks you’ll call your own, like tossing fresh-roasted almonds in maple syrup to serve on ice cream.”

World News 12-18


THIS WEEK’S REVIEWS

Gurcharan Das discusses the state of India and the issues highlighted in AN UNCERTAIN GLORY in his recent Wall Street Journal review. Listen to this interview with Amartya Sen, who co-authored the book with Jean Dréze.

You can also hear an interview with Francisco Bethencourt, the author of RACISMS, as he spoke to The Forum this week. RACISMS is the first comprehensive history of racism, from the Crusades to the twentieth century.

Did you hear all of the buzz about US President Barack Obama’s selfie? PUP author Simon Blackburn says it could have been worse. Check out his explanation in the Financial Times. His book, MIRROR, MIRROR, will be released this spring.

 

Princeton University Press’s best-selling titles for the last week

These are the best-selling books for the past week.

 

k8967 Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian by A. Douglas Stone
k10054 The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton
Helmreich_NewYork The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich
Sides_TheGamble3 The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election by John Sides & Lynn Vavreck
 k10099 The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism by Robert E. Buswell Jr. & Donald S. Lopez Jr.
 k10093 Maimonides: Life and Thought by Moshe Halbertal
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
McCallSmith_Auden What W. H. Auden Can Do for You by Alexander McCall Smith
Stephenson_WarblerG The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle
 k9144 Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History by Thomas Barfield

Q&A with Douglas Stone, Author of “Einstein and the Quantum”

Einstein and the QuantumA. Douglas Stone is the Carl A. Morse Professor of Applied Physics and Physics at Yale University. His book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian, reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein’s contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light–the core of what we now know as quantum theory–than he did about relativity.

In a recent interview, A. Douglas Stone talked about Einstein’s contributions to the scientific community, quantum theory, and his new book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian.



Why does quantum theory matter?
At the beginning of the 20th century science was facing a fundamental roadblock: scientists did not understand the laws governing the atoms and molecules of which all materials are made, but which are unobservable due to their size.

At that time there was a real question whether the human mind was capable of understanding this microscopic realm, outside of all our direct experience of the world.  The development and success of quantum theory was a turning point for modern civilization, enabling most of the scientific advances and revolutionary technologies of the century that followed.

What are some of the ways that quantum theory has changed our lives?
There is a common misconception that quantum mechanics is mainly about very weird phenomena, remote from everyday life, such as Schrodinger’s cat, exotic sub-atomic particles, black holes, or the Big Bang.  Actually it is a precise quantitative tool to understand the materials, chemical reactions and devices we employ in modern industries, such as semiconductors, solar cells, and lasers.  An early success of the quantum theory was to help predict how to extract ammonia from the air, which could then be used as fertilizer for the green revolution that revolutionized 20th century agriculture. And of course our ability to develop both nuclear weapons and nuclear power was completely dependent upon quantum theory.

Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory important and interesting?
It is important because a careful examination of the historical record shows that Einstein was responsible for more of the fundamental new concepts of the theory than any other single scientist.  This is arguably his greatest scientific legacy, despite his fame for Relativity Theory.  He himself said, “I have thought a hundred times more about the quantum problems than I have about Relativity Theory”. It is interesting because he ultimately refused to accept quantum theory as the ultimate truth about Nature, because it violated his core philosophical principles.

So you are saying that Einstein is famous for the wrong theory?
In a certain sense, yes.  All physicists agree that the theory of relativity, particularly general relativity, is a work of staggering individual genius.  But in terms of impact on human society and history, quantum mechanics is simply much more important.  In fact, relativity theory is incorporated into important parts of modern quantum mechanics, but in many contexts it is irrelevant.

In what ways was Einstein central to the development of the theory?
I estimate that his contributions to quantum theory would have been worthy of four Nobel Prizes if different scientists had done them, compared to the one that he received. I go through each of these contributions in its historical and biographical context in the book.

Can you give a few examples?
Quantum theory gets its name because it says that certain physical quantities, including the energies of electrons bound to atomic nuclei are quantized, meaning that only certain energies are allowed, whereas in macroscopic physics energy is a continuously varying quantity.  Typically the German physicist, Max Planck, is credited with the insight that energy must be quantized at the molecular scale, but the detailed history shows Einstein role in this conceptual breakthrough was greater.
Another key thing in quantum theory is that fundamental particles, while they move in space, sometimes behave as if they were spread out, like a wave in water, but in other contexts they appear as particles, i.e. very localized point-like objects.  Einstein introduced this “wave-particle duality” first, in 1905 (his “miracle year”), when he proposed that light, long thought to be an electromagnetic wave, also could behave like a particle, now known as the photon.
Yet another, very unusual concept in quantum theory is that fundamental particles, such as photons, are “indistinguishable” in a technical sense.  When many photons are bunched together it makes no sense to ask which is which.  This changes their physical properties in a very important way, and this insight is often attributed to the Indian physicist, S. N. Bose (hence the term “boson”).  In my view Einstein played a larger role in this advance than did Bose, although he always very generously gave Bose a great deal of credit.
The stories of these and other findings are fully told in the book and they illustrate new aspects of Einstein’s genius, unknown to the public and even to many working scientists.

What did Einstein object to about quantum theory?
Initially he reacted strongly against the intrinsic randomness and uncertainty of quantum mechanics, saying “God does not play dice”.  But after that his main objection was that quantum theory seems to break down the distinction between the subjective world of human experience and the objective description of physical reality that he considered the goal of physics, and his central mission in life. Many physicists struggle with this issue even today.

Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory underappreciated?
Einstein ultimately rejected the theory and moved on to other areas of research, so he never emphasized the extent of his contributions.  His own autobiographical notes, written in his seventies, understate his role to an almost laughable degree. Second, Einstein’s version of quantum theory, wave mechanics, did not create a school of followers, whereas Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others reached the same point be a different route. Their school fostered the primary research thrust in atomic and nuclear physics, gradually causing the memory of Einstein’s role to fade.  Finally, the history of Einstein’s involvement with quantum theory was long (1905-1925) and complex, and few people really understand it all; I try to remedy that in this book.

Did Einstein do anything important in quantum physics after the basic theory was known?
No and yes.  He did not work in the main stream of elementary particle physics which developed shortly after the basic theory was discovered in the late nineteen twenties, since he refused to employ the standard mathematical machinery of quantum theory which everyone else used.  However, in the early 1930’s he identified a conceptual feature of quantum theory missed by all the other pioneers, which became known by the term “entanglement”. This concept, ironically, is critical to the most revolutionary area of modern quantum physics, quantum information theory and quantum computing.

What does the subtitle of the book refer to? Who is the “Valiant Swabian”?
The Valiant Swabian was a fictional crusader knight, the hero of a poem by Ludwig Uhland, a poet from Swabia where Einstein was born. In his twenties, Einstein used to refer to himself jokingly by this name, particularly with his first wife, Mileva Maric.  It was a similar to someone today calling himself “Indiana Jones” for fun.  The young Einstein was a charismatic and memorable personality, with great joie de vivre, as this nickname indicates.  He was known for his sense of humor, his rebelliousness, and for his attractiveness to women, in contrast to the benevolent, grandfatherly, star-gazer we associate with iconic pictures of the white-maned sage of later years.

How did you research this book? What materials did you have access to?
There is a very extensive trove of letters and private papers that survive in Einstein’s estate, all of which have been translated and published for the period 1886 to 1922.  From reading all of these I got a good sense of his personality.  And all of his important scientific papers in the relevant time period are available in English now, so I was able to go back and see exactly how he arrived at his revolutionary ideas about quantum theory, which I then did my best to interpret in layman’s terms. In addition I relied on several excellent biographies by Folsing, Isaacson and Pais, and historical articles by many leading historians of science, such as T.S. Kuhn and Martin Klein.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Einstein and the Quantum?
First, new insight into Einstein’s genius, and a sense of the personality of the young Einstein, before his fame. Second, appreciation of the historic significance of the successful attempt to understand the atom through quantum theory, a turning point in human civilization. Third, an understanding of how science advances as a creative, human process, with both brilliant insights and embarrassing blunders, affected by psychological and philosophical influences.