This is obviously a labor of love. A primer on quantum mechanics built on analogies to Heavy Metal. This is a flavor of popular science that I wholly support. It’s fuzzy on the details, and some of the metaphors are stretched far enough to fully outrage the sticklers, but it squarely translates the incomprehensible into the realm of everyday experience. This is, in my experience, the essence of human learning and understanding. Alas that Mr Moriarty’s insight does not extend to his writing. The book is, on the whole, forgettable and confusing.
There are a few places this book fails to deliver. Perhaps the most significant is in explaining why. Explaining wave theory and Fourier analysis with guitars and metal riffs is borderline genius, but Moriarty does not plant the seed of inquisitiveness with nearly such skill. There is no hook. We are simply told that we’re looking at waves, so we learn about waves. The mind-blowing reality of the wave-nature of matter is buried. This pattern repeats throughout the book; some concepts will be explained thoroughly and others will be mentioned only in passing. While we explore fun analogies and trivia, the broader picture of where we’re going and why is lost.
I get the impression that Moriarty is a better speaker than writer. His enthusiasm and passion are unmistakable, and while his conversational tone and meandering storytelling seem well-suited to a lecture or a casual conversation, in this book, the pacing is all wrong.
First, there are too many footnotes. There are chapters of this book where there are near half-page footnotes on every other page. Make no mistake, Moriarty’s stories are gems. However, his enthusiasm requires the reader to context switch every paragraph while trying to ingest history, music, and physics.
Another problem is the diagrams and illustrations. In a book whose purpose is to explain something complex in terms of something simpler, one would expect some good visual aids. And the illustrations are, for the most part, exactly what you’d want: frequency diagrams, cute drawings, microscopy imaging. However, they all suffer from the same flaw: they’re way too small. There are diagrams inset in diagrams that you need a magnifying glass to see. To make matters worse, everything (including the charts) is done in a hand-drawn style. Some of the illustrations are so tiny and rough that they are incomprehensible without the caption. I don’t know the details of publishing well enough to be able to say where the blame lies for this, but someone dropped the ball.
I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. I learned a few things (mostly on the Metal side), but on the whole, I felt a little let down.