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Publisher's Summary

Our intuition about how things should behave is usually right in the everyday world. We see the baseball soar in the air, arc, drop, and lie stationary on the ground. Through data gathered by our senses and basic knowledge of the laws of classical mechanics, the motion of a ball makes perfect sense.But enter the world of the tiniest particles on earth—the motion of electrons, the shapes of molecules—and everything we think we know about the world radically changes. To understand what’s really happening in the world around us, to comprehend the mysterious, counterintuitive science of the small, we must take a quantum theory view of nature. Like no other book before it, Absolutely Small makes the inherently challenging field of quantum theory understandable to nonscientists, without oversimplifying and without bogging down in complicated math.

Written by an award-winning professor at Stanford University, the book uses clear explanations and real-world examples instead of dense equations to help you understand:

  • Why strawberries are red and blueberries are blue
  • How particles can change from “mixed states” to “pure states” based solely on observation
  • How a single photon can be in two places at the same time
  • Why quantum matter sometimes acts like particles, and other times like waves
  • Why a piece of metal will glow red when it is hot, and turn blue when it’s even hotter
  • What makes salt dissolve in water, while oil does not, and much more

In the tradition of Stephen Hawking and Lewis Thomas, but without the rigorous mathematical requirements, Absolutely Small demystifies the fascinating realm of quantum physics and chemistry, complete with compelling accounts of the scientists and experiments that helped form our current understanding of quantum matter.

©2010 Michael D. Fayer (P)2010 Gildan Media Corp

Critic Reviews

“There are a few books that I always keep near at hand, and constantly come back to. The Feynman Lectures on Physics and Dirac’s classic textbook on quantum mechanics are among them. Michael Fayer’s wonderful new book, Absolutely Small, is about to join them. Whether you are a scientist or just curious about how the world works, this is the book for you.” (Leonard Susskind, Professor of Physics, Stanford University; author of The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics )

What members say

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  • Chris
  • Willits, CA, United States
  • 12-21-10

No math - wrong

Figures and equations don't work in Audiobooks generally. Sometimes the producers will try to make them work with either handouts (hard to read while driving) or detailed descriptions. In this case they did not even try - just a dude reading equations off to you - very frustrating. Chapters 1-4 were good and relatively math free. After that the author gives up on his promise to "keep out the math" and begins inserting equations to "prove his point." I don't need the math to convince me and the narrative is lost with the interruptions of the math.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

This is more text book than listening material

While the author obviously knows his stuff, he was not able to translate it into a good listening book for non-physicists. The constant references to diagrams that you have to download and have handy while listening was incredibly bothersome. I was hoping for a book similar to "Particle Physics - A Very Short Introduction" by Frank Close. But the author of this book provides very few real-world examples and sticks to pure theory and minutia. I thought way too much time was spent explaining the spins of electrons. Unless real-world implications are discussed, it quickly becomes very dry and boring.

Additionally, the narrator was quite dull. Admittedly, he was probably bored with the material, too.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • michael
  • austin, TX, United States
  • 01-02-11

interesting but frustrating..

I've always loved science.. never really dug in too deep as far as taking college level courses, but will watch the Science and Discovery Channel all day if left to my own devices.

I bought the book for my holiday trip and have always wanted to learn a bit more about quantum physics and mechanics.

The author mentions in the preface that he's not going to get too math and formula heavy and this can be sort of an everyman's book to help demystify the topic at hand.

The author keeps his promise for a little while, but then proceeds to repeatedly use formulas and refers time and again to diagrams that only appear in the actual book.

This may not be problematic for milder topics or for physics majors.. but for the everyday guy who's just trying to learn a bit of science while driving.. I found it incredibly frustrating.

I hope to make it through the entire book because the subject matter is interesting to me.. but the way it's being presented leaves a bit to be desired.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Great book... academically speaking.

Good basis of science required to enjoy it... and by good I mean more than high school level knowledge, otherwise will be hard to digest.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Joshua
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 04-19-11

Exactly what is needed to get Quantum Theory!

I have read all the other reviews and they all are correct. This is an absolutely fabulous book knowledge wise. Its got everything for knowledge on quantum theory. However with it being an audiobook and the author making references to figure this and figure that. You will need to download the accompanying pdf file with the figures he discusses.

Besides this small inconvenience this is a truly remarkable book. Don't not buy this book just because of this small issue. You will be missing out on a ton of good information!


5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 04-02-11

Not what is advertised....

Absolutely Small suggests it will explain quantum mechanics and (in the introduction) suggests the author will show that quantum mechanics makes sense. Instead this is more of a brief introduction to quantum chemistry. It glosses over all the tricky bits of quantum mechanics, presenting a ???shut up and do quantum chemistry??? attitude. The title ???absolutely small??? is highlighted in the last chapter when the author explains when to use quantum vs. classical mechanics. His answer seems to be ???when it makes a difference.??? He also punts on Schrodinger???s cat. Although I enjoyed this book and learned a few things, I have lots of experience with physics and could easily visualize the atomic shell structure diagrams and did not mind the many audio equations. My guess is most people would find this very frustrating in a written text, let alone an audio book. As a book on the basics of quantum chemistry, it is ok, but as a book on understanding quantum mechanics it fails utterly.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Manuel
  • St. Nazianz, WI, United States
  • 01-07-11

Bad choice for an audio book!

I seriously wonder why anyone thought this would make a good audio book. Far too many references to figures for audio and all of the equations being rattled off without any thought of translating the jargon into English was enough to make me finally give up by chapter 8. Definitely not a good book to listen to while commuting! Maybe with the accompanying reference guide I will try again but if I have to sit and flip through pages of diagrams then I may as well be reading the hard copy.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • morton
  • Rego Park, NY, United States
  • 12-13-10

Fascinating Audio

This audio book is great for anyone with a curious mind. Fayer does a wonderful job of explaining Quantum Theory...but be sure to download the pdf of the charts and diagrams that is available when you download the book from Audible.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Marcin
  • Radom, Poland
  • 08-10-13

a premium popular scientific book

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

As one of the previous reviewers said, this book absolutely doesn't deserve the harsh critique a few people has given it here. They most probably haven't downloaded an additional pdf with lots of schematics, graphs, and plots which considerably eases the listening - with them the narration is simple and as clear as crystal (no pun intended). It's a great introduction to quantum physics and chemistry - if you are interested in those subjects, you don't have to hesitate, in all likelihood you won't be disappointed.

Have you listened to any of Scott Peterson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I've never listened to any of his other performances but here he's done a great job.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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buy the real book

Is there anything you would change about this book?

a subject like this, in this format needs more thought experiments and less greek symbol representation. The formulas are critical to QM but unless you are great at visualizing virtual chalkboards in your mind while driving, get the real book. If you have to reference more than a few visual aides in an audio book, you need to rethink your approach. I feel the same applies to any presentator. I will also take a look at the author's textbook he mentioned. I blame Leonard Suskind for my purchase :)

Has Absolutely Small turned you off from other books in this genre?

no. this is all I listen to.

Did Scott Peterson do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

what characters? bad question

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

I would camp outside in full costume!

Any additional comments?

the author should talk to dawkins and greene. they do a great job explaining complex ideas that work well in this format

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • caroline
  • 09-26-12

Absolutely Useless

I couldn`t be more disappointed with this recording. I was excited when I found it because I have a hungry interest in quantum theory. It is an exciting field - but I am a complete novice. This book was promoted as a clear, accessible explanation - willingness to take time and trouble to think through what was being delivered was made clear , but through the emphasis being that it does not need mathematical understanding.

I defy anybody to find this spoken book accessible. Even with a good starting knowledge you are always at disadvantage because they continually refer to charts in the hard copy - they mention a fact and then say as shown in and then continue to discuss the point in relation to the chart that you can`t see!

In addition the man`s ability to express the subject in a way that is accessible is zero. I just listened to a point which he then goes on to say `see figure(s) 7.2, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 6.4. He quite simply is incapable of presenting information in a manner that informs anyone who is not already qualified. That is ok, except that the whole promotion of the audible book and the sample reading is all dedicated to saying how accessible it is.

Unless you have a physics degree don`t touch it ... and even if you have remember you will repeatedly be given an argument that refers to a chart or picture in the hard copy in order to expand the point - so without the hard copy you are left flaying. This experience has left me cynical about the whole idea of using Audible and relying on promotion of books and samples to make a buying decisions. Seems got me it is only reliable for storybooks.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mr. Paul Wilde
  • 01-21-13

Not about quantum theory & hard to follow

Really disappointed in this book, expected it to be more quantum physics but the vast majority of it talks about molecules and their shapes.Really boring subject matter. All the way through it refers to diagrams in the book as this is a *audiobook* there are no diagrams so it's pointless as an audiobook.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful