Skip to main content


Beyond Weird by Philip Ball wins Physics World Book of the Year 2018

17 Dec 2018 Tushna Commissariat

The winner of the 2018 Physics World Book of the Year is a profound take on the true meaning of quantum mechanics, and the limits of our knowledge itself

Philip Ball

Quantum mechanics – its fundamental interpretations, contemporary technical applications, and even its history and philosophy – has dominated the headlines in physics this year. It is no surprise then, that the field was also a hot topic when it came to popular-science writing, with three books on the subject making our 2018 top 10 list. But if you were to read one of the many books on the subject released this year, then it should the winner of the 2018 Physics World Book of the Year – Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different by Philip Ball.

Spooky, strange and apparently impenetrable, quantum mechanics is often thought of as impossible to truly comprehend. It is also notoriously difficult to explain to a general audience, especially without falling into the trap of analogies that never quite work. In Beyond Weird, Ball, a veteran author and science writer, takes to task the long-held view that the quantum world is “weird” – instead, he points out that quantum theory simply reveals how nature truly works, absurd though it may seem to us at times, with our everyday experiences in the “classical” world. The inherent “weirdness” is in our understanding, says Ball, as he tackles the varied interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Rife with science, Beyond Weird also contains a hefty helping of philosophy, as Ball attempts to reconcile quantum reality with seemingly confounding experimental results. Quantum theory may actually be a theory about information, and how we gain it. As Ball writes, a more “if this, then that” approach to understanding the outcome of an experiment may be what we need to meaningfully understand the quantum world.

Our reviewer Brian Clegg described Beyond Weird as “the most original and interesting book on quantum physics for the general public in a long while”, adding that what Ball “successfully does is to enable the reader to look at quantum physics in a different light.” Poignant, profound, bold and extremely well researched, Beyond Weird is the book to read to get a contemporary and comprehensive take on the quantum world, as we know it today.   

We’ve based our choice on the 37 books we’ve reviewed over the last 12 months in Physics World, picking our favourite 10 using the same three criteria that have been in place since we launched our book of the year award in 2009. These are that the books must be well written, novel and scientifically interesting to physicists. This year also marks our 10th winner, so listen to the December Physics World Stories podcast, which features some previous winners, as we look back on a decade of awarding our Book of the Year. The podcast also includes a discussion with Ball, so tune in to find out how and why he decided to pen his quantum tome.


The other nine titles in our shortlist (in no particular order) are:

Treknology: the Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drives by Ethan Siegel

Ad Astra: an Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet by Dallas Campbell

Exact Thinking in Demented Times: the Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science by Karl Sigmund

Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different by Philip Ball

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray by Sabine Hossenfelder

The Dialogues: Conversations About the Nature of the Universe by Clifford V Johnson

When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11: Or How to Explain Quantum Physics with Heavy Metal by Philip Moriarty

What is Real: the Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker

Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine by Hannah Fry

Related events

Copyright © 2024 by IOP Publishing Ltd and individual contributors