The three rebels make intriguing heroes in Mr. Becker’s informative and enjoyable book. Their stories illustrate how personality, prestige and prejudice can play a role in elevating or marginalizing ideas in physics, as in any other branch of academic life. Mr. Becker takes a frankly partisan view, and while he acknowledges technical problems on all sides of the debate, his reasonable desire for a coherent narrative somewhat elevates the claims of the dissidents against the mighty Bohr. At times Copenhagen almost seems like the heart of an evil empire ... History is written by the victors, and journalism is the first draft of history. Since the quantum contest is still being fought, we should perhaps consider What Is Real? to be journalism rather than history. That is in no way meant pejoratively: Adam Becker has written an excellent, accessible account of an intricate story. Whether he has chosen to wear the right uniform will be for future readers to judge.
Becker sides with the worriers. He leads us through an impressive account of the rise of competing interpretations, grounding them in the human stories, which are naturally messy and full of contingencies. He makes a convincing case that it’s wrong to imagine the Copenhagen interpretation as a single official or even coherent statement. It is, he suggests, a 'strange assemblage of claims.'
In addressing these questions Becker takes a historical approach, leading us through responses starting with that of Bohr, the de facto leader of a group of early quantum theorists including Heisenberg (discoverer of the uncertainty principle), Max Born and Pascual Jordan, who collectively formulated the influential 'Copenhagen interpretation' — though, strictly speaking, there isn’t a single unified view ... Becker’s intent is not to sway us to any one of the newer interpretations; rather he hopes to convince us that the Copenhagen interpretation has had too great an influence on physics for historically contingent reasons, including Bohr’s outsize charisma.