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Quantum Generations:
A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century
Helge Kragh

Paperback | 2002 | $62.50 | £52.95 | ISBN: 9780691095523
512 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 34 tables 22 line illus.
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Chapter 1

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At the end of the nineteenth century, some physicists believed that the basic principles underlying their subject were already known, and that physics in the future would only consist of filling in the details. They could hardly have been more wrong. The past century has seen the rise of quantum mechanics, relativity, cosmology, particle physics, and solid-state physics, among other fields. These subjects have fundamentally changed our understanding of space, time, and matter. They have also transformed daily life, inspiring a technological revolution that has included the development of radio, television, lasers, nuclear power, and computers. In Quantum Generations, Helge Kragh, one of the world's leading historians of physics, presents a sweeping account of these extraordinary achievements of the past one hundred years.

The first comprehensive one-volume history of twentieth-century physics, the book takes us from the discovery of X rays in the mid-1890s to superstring theory in the 1990s. Unlike most previous histories of physics, written either from a scientific perspective or from a social and institutional perspective, Quantum Generations combines both approaches. Kragh writes about pure science with the expertise of a trained physicist, while keeping the content accessible to nonspecialists and paying careful attention to practical uses of science, ranging from compact disks to bombs. As a historian, Kragh skillfully outlines the social and economic contexts that have shaped the field in the twentieth century. He writes, for example, about the impact of the two world wars, the fate of physics under Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, the role of military research, the emerging leadership of the United States, and the backlash against science that began in the 1960s. He also shows how the revolutionary discoveries of scientists ranging from Einstein, Planck, and Bohr to Stephen Hawking have been built on the great traditions of earlier centuries.

Combining a mastery of detail with a sure sense of the broad contours of historical change, Kragh has written a fitting tribute to the scientists who have played such a decisive role in the making of the modern world.


"A readable and enormously valuable book."--Graham Farmelo, Nature

"An ambitious one-volume history: the first comprehensive textbook to address most of the significant aspects in the intellectual history of 20th-century physics. Kragh's achievement . . . is quite remarkable. . . . For physicists who want to 'humanize' their courses, or brush up on their professional past, for those who teach the history of modern science, and for anyone fascinated with physics, I can recommend this book as an indispensable resource."--Diana Barkan, Physics World

"Neither a specialized academic work nor a mere popularization, Kragh's tome [is a] synthetic, deeply detailed and carefully explained survey. . . An impressive reference work, and a serious award-winning read."--Publisher's Weekly

"A sweeping survey of the development of modern physics . . . wide-ranging, studiously researched, and comprehensive."--The Economist

"Within a century we've seen the rise of new physics, which has, however haltingly, at last begun to answer the big questions. . . . Taken together, they're an embarrassment of riches, and Kragh has had to pare the story down severely. But he's equal to the task, and manages to cover the pantheon of 20th-century physics."--New Scientist

"It is a thrilling story, full of excitement, danger, surprise and beauty, and it is told with lucidity and scholarship by Helge Kragh. What he gives us in this absorbing account is the story of what could be mankind's greatest intellectual adventure to date."--Financial Times

"Kragh does an exceptional job of trying to cover in a single volume one of the most prolific sciences of this century."--Library Journal

"Compared with the popular interest books on physics . . . Kragh presents appreciably more technical detail, and his estimable overview will appeal better to the active physics student."--Booklist

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This book has been translated into:

  • Finnish
  • Spanish
  • Greek

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File created: 7/11/2017

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