A Quantum Life

“You’ll encounter one extraordinary turn of events after another, as the extraordinary chess player, puzzle solver, and occasional grifter works his way from grinding poverty and deep despair to worldwide acclaim as a physicist.”

—Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society

Watch Hakeem on Good Morning America

About the Book

In this inspiring coming-of-age memoir, a world-renowned astrophysicist emerges from an impoverished childhood and crime-filled adolescence to ascend through the top ranks of research physics.

Navigating poverty, violence, and instability, a young James Plummer had two guiding stars—a genius IQ and a love of science. But a bookish nerd is a soft target, and James faced years of bullying and abuse. As he struggled to survive his childhood in some of the country’s toughest urban neighborhoods in New Orleans, Houston, and LA, and later in the equally poor backwoods of Mississippi, he adopted the persona of “gangsta nerd”—dealing weed in juke joints while winning state science fairs with computer programs that model Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Once admitted to the elite physics PhD program at Stanford University, James found himself pulled between the promise of a bright future and a dangerous crack cocaine habit he developed in college. With the encouragement of his mentor and the sole Black professor in the physics department, James confronted his personal demons as well as the entrenched racism and classism of the scientific establishment. When he finally seized his dream of a life in astrophysics, he adopted a new name, Hakeem Muata Oluseyi, to honor his African ancestors.
Alternately heartbreaking and hopeful, A Quantum Life narrates one man’s remarkable quest across an ever-expanding universe filled with entanglement and choice.

A Quantum Life encompasses with equal grace matters of particle physics and matters of a fractured family, challenges that are self-wrought and challenges inflicted by racism, and triumphs over an academic landscape engineered against poor African Americans as well as triumphs of the human heart.”

—Jeff Hobbs, New York Times bestselling author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace


“A Black astrophysicist delivers a memoir that demonstrates the unstoppable strength of intelligence and the human spirit… A sharp, relatable book about self-reinvention and a loving nod to anyone who has ever believed in the potential of another.” —Kirkus (Starred review) 

“[A] gripping story of overcoming obstacles and finding purpose. A great read for memoir fans, who will be drawn in from the first page.” —Library Journal (Starred review)

“Inspiring. [Oluseyi’s] story serves as a reminder that barriers can be broken regardless of one’s background and that there is no one way to be a scientist.” —Science

“Illuminating and candid. Fans of Neil deGrasse Tyson will embrace this invigorating account of a life devoted to science.” —Booklist (Starred review)