Quantum Mechanics

December 3, 2009

"Why yet another book on quantum mechanics?" the authors ask. It is courageous of them to pose this obvious question in the first sentence of their book because most new treatments of quantum mechanics are stale, derivative and, in the final analysis, redundant. But their courage is matched by the quality of their product: they have written a truly original treatment that towers over most of its competitors and makes many of them look pedestrian.

Superstar Italian theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi and his colleagues have been writing Quantum Mechanics for the past eight years. This has been time well spent. The authors have not just clarified familiar (and endlessly recycled) material but have looked again at non-relativistic quantum mechanics and considered how the entire subject - including some of the latest developments - can be taught to third- or fourth-year undergraduates. Instead of hurrying on to relativistic quantum mechanics and field theory, they discuss in detail the measurement problem, quantum optics and other topics that collectively enable the book to give a thorough overview of a subject that, quite wrongly, may appear to students to have ossified.

The book is divided into four parts, covering the basics, more advanced topics (such as angular momentum and symmetries), the interaction of matter and light and, finally, quantum information. The first and most orthodox part demonstrates the need for a successor to classical mechanics, then sets up the quantum formalism and applies it in simple cases. The authors give some historical context and experimental underpinning, but they concentrate on developing the theory logically, in a way that emphasises its coherence. Unusually, from the outset they do not use Schrodinger wave functions but instead cast the theory in terms of Dirac algebra. The pedagogical style is of an exceptionally high standard, with plenty of summaries and problems, and with abundant backup on the book's website.

It is, however, in the following 500 pages that the book comes into its own, especially in the final part. There, the careful preparation of the earlier sections pays off and we are treated to an exceptionally clear treatment of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, Bell's theorem and several experimental tests of the theory. The final section, on teleportation and quantum cryptography, is an authoritative presentation of state-of-the-art physics that even experts will find illuminating.

Auletta, Fortunato and Parisi's handsomely produced book will benefit thousands of students and has the potential to rekindle the passion of many teachers who have taught quantum mechanics for so long that they yawn even at the thought of teaching it again. This is the freshest new treatment of a well-established branch of physics I have read for more than a decade, as far away as I can imagine from being "yet another book on quantum mechanics".

Who is it for? Final-year undergraduate physicists.

Presentation: Step by step from very basic quantum mechanics to state-of-the-art material. Many solved problems and exercises.

Would you recommend it? Yes, strongly. This is a fresh and rewarding new approach.

Quantum Mechanics

Authors: Gennaro Auletta, Mauro Fortunato and Giorgio Parisi

Edition: First

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Pages: 756

Price: £45.00

ISBN: 9780521869638

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