Ok so time and again I've seen the question of what books one should read to develop an interest in physics and to bridge the gap between A-level and degree. I was thinking maybe we should create a list of interesting and informative books that are useful and advisable to read. Obviously only post those that you would recommend, not every book you have ever read . If you could post title, author and a small description that would be grand
For a more complete and up to date list of recommendations based on this thread and it's sister thread then see the associated article in the TSR Wiki
Astrophysics & Cosmology
A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking Not as good as its mythological status suggests but definitely worth a read to give a broad overview of cosmology. A little out of date now, and a little mind blowing in places but it certainly opens your eyes to the principles of cosmology.
Universe in a Nutshell - Stephen Hawking
The sequel to the above, written in 2001 it brings the reader up to date, focussing mainly on the theory of branes and M-theory, which leads on from string theory. A lot more pretty pictures in this one, but again quite involved conceptually, and somewhat biased towards set theories.
The Elegant Universe - Brian Greene Another of these mythical "must read" books which has become extremely popular of late. For all its popularity make no mistake that it is not an easy read. Its pitched at quite a high level but does give just about everything on string theory you could possibly want to know. It's also very biased towards string theory. Read it if you like, but in my opinion there are far better books out there. Save yourself the trouble and watch the TV series.
Blackholes and Timewarps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy - Kip Thorne A really excellent book that I would really recommend. It's quite difficult to obtain, and rather epic in proportions but it covers all areas of astronomy, right through from relativity to black holes to the search for gravity waves. I particularly like the way it focusses on the scientific method, and how physics at that level operates in research groups.
The First Three Minutes - Steven Weinberg To be honest I have yet to read it... its on my shelf so will let you know when i do, but its been highly recommended to me as one of the classics. I believe it focusses on the initial state of the universe as a story, from big bang onwards.
Just Six Numbers - Martin Rees Written by the Astronomer Royal this book takes a slightly different tact, focussing on 6 dimensionless fundamental constants of nature and looking at how these affect the way the universe is today. It basically tells the story of the development of the universe through these 6 numbers. It tries to be different, but is basically the same story from a different angle. Worthy of a read though.
In Search of the Big Bang - John Gribbin Very much a pop science book, and like most John Gribbin books probably not entirely accurate, but it is an enthralling read about the history of the universe and how the theories we believe today came about. It includes a bit on string theory, and in particular a discussion of the forces as existing in other dimensions... which in my experience is quite rare for a book.
In Search of Schrodinger's Cat - John Gribbin Again, not completely accurate and a little out of date now, but a compelling read for all that. It was this book which awoke my enthusiasm for quantum, which has remained ever since. It's all just so bizarre. The book is basically a history of quantum and how it came about, with some good analogies and a final discussion on how it is used in every day life.
Schrodinger's Kittens - John Gribbin The sequel to the above, discussing the developments of quantum since the late 80s when the above was written. It mainly covers entanglement, doing quite a reasonable job of explaining it I must say. I think there is a small section on quantum computing also. Not as good as the above book but readable and interesting nonetheless for those with an interest in quantum.
QED - Richard Feynman Not for the faint hearted. I have to confess I've never read this but you can never go wrong with Feynman. From what i know though, it is pitched at quite a high level, so I would advise leaving it til at least A2, and having read some more basic quantum books first.
Relativity Relativity is quite hard to read on as the subject is necessarily complex and mathematical. There are not in my experience that many books out there pitched at a level readable by A-level students. The best you can do is to read the astro books above which do talk and discuss relativity at reasonable length. Books on time travel are another possibility
Special Relativity - A. P. French. this is really a degree level text book, fairly widely used from what I can gather, but it is just about readable and understandable as a reading book and the maths is kept to a relative minimum. I wouldn't recommend it to those not totally confident with maths and physics as it is quite an advanced read.
Electromagnetism Finding books on electromagnetism of a pop science nature is nigh on impossible. Electromagnetism necessarily requires high level of mathematical skill and understanding, on topics not covered at A-level (such as vector calculus and multiple integrals to name but two). If anyone can find any I'll include it, but in short I would avoid EM like the plague as it is enough to put anyone off physics for life if you aren't careful. You'll meet it soon enough at Uni if you go on that far
Great Physicists - William H. Cropper I love this book. I take it to uni with me every term as its great to just dip into. It covers nearly every possible area of physics in surprising detail. It even gives explanations of some advanced mathematical topics such as vector calculus. It's set out as a biography of around 30 key physicists, arranged by area of physics, discussing in depth the lives of these greats and the detail behind what they discovered. I highly recommend this one.
Feynman Lectures In Physics (Vol I-III) - Richard Feynman These are the classic lecture series books produced by Feynman which every student likes to claim to have read. I would not advise purchasing them (they are expensive) or indeed reading them cover to cover, but they do offer a different perspective of things and Feynman is unparallelled in his ability to explain. Make no mistake, these are degree level books, although they would not be useful as a core text book in any degree course you do. If you want lighter reading I suggest the extracts below.
Six Easy Pieces/ Six Not So Easy Pieces - Richard Feynman These are the best bits from the above lectures in physics. The first is clealy simpler to read than the not so easy ones, as should be obvious from the title. I would definitely advise reading 6 easy pieces, just for the discussions of quantum. Feynman sees things differently too everyone else and his analogies are excellent.
A-level Standard Texts Can't think of any at present
I would just like to comment on a few of the things said. Most people will probably disagree with my views on the books. I mainly agree with the comments on the other books that I've read. I can't think of much to add to the list, except the other Feynman books (which don't have much as much physics content).
(Original post by F1 fanatic) A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking Not as good as its mythological status suggests but definitely worth a read to give a broad overview of cosmology. A little out of date now, and a little mind blowing in places but it certainly opens your eyes to the principles of cosmology.
A Briefer History of Time is imo better written, much easier to understand and more up to date and is definitely worth reading. There are better books, but it is still very good in some areas.
The Elegant Universe - Brian Greene ... For all its popularity make no mistake that it is not an easy read. ... Save yourself the trouble and watch the TV series.
I read it when I was 14 and didn't have much trouble with it; I don't think it is particularly difficult to understand. The TV series was possibly the most boring thing ever. It took hours to explain almost none of the book in almost no detail. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't read the book first. However I found the book, even if not brilliant, to be infinitely better than the TV series.
I thought I'd just say a few things about some of the books there I've read (or tried reading!).
I read A Brief History of Time in the summer after GCSEs and got about halfway before it just got too difficult. I've just read A Briefer History of Time and that was fairly easy to follow - well, not THAT easy but ok for a Physics book!
I've read about 3/4 of QED but put it down about a month ago and haven't returned to it yet. It is quite hard to follow, especially as I've only done AS Physics so far, but I might pick it back up in a few months during A2.
I'm reading Six Easy Pieces at the moment and it's quite good. I'm only on the second chapter so I can't speak for the whole book but the first chapter was fine - followed most of it because it's basically about particle theory which you do in about year 8! I got halfway through the second chapter but then Feynman started talking about muons and leptons and I've never learnt about these so found it hard to follow. But I'm going straight on to chapter 3 now...
I've also read half of Chaos by James Gleick - which is alright but it might be better if you know something about chaos theory beforehand because I didn't know anything about it at all. Although it really tells the story of how the theory was developed rather than talking about the theory itself.
im a chemist so dont burn me, but i want to add Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene to your list because it expands so much on the first book and has very little maths. Brian Greene outdoes Hawking completely! a much better read than Brief History of Time and its up to date!
The Fabric Of Reality by David Deutsch is a very dense book, but also a very extensive one. It touches on parallel universes, the nature of mathematics, time travel and virtual reality amongst many others.
(Original post by tozhan) im a chemist so dont burn me, but i want to add Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene to your list because it expands so much on the first book and has very little maths. Brian Greene outdoes Hawking completely! a much better read than Brief History of Time and its up to date!
I'm just about to finish ABHOT and am about to read The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (haha I just had to put the whole title) by Greene.
I must agree that QED and A brief history of time are some of the best books for popular physics ever written. But another good book if you want to go a bit more mathematical is "The road to reality" by Roger Penrose, its excelent and goes straight from basic maths through the whole of physics and at the end onto quantum mechanics.
Whats good is that it starts at the beggining so you don't need to have read hundreds of maths books on imaginary numbers and other such stuff before hand to understand.
I've read my fair share of pop-sci and I'd reccomend Lee Smolin's book: "Three Roads to Quantum Gravity" as an alternative to Brian Greene's books. Obviously Smolin takes a different approach to explaining things because he has predominantly focused on loop quantum gravity throughout his career. It is by far the best science book I've ever read, although it's conceptly slightly more demanding than "The Elegant Universe."
"Not Even Wrong" is worth a look too, it goes into more detail than Lee's book but I don't think it reads as well. The inclusion of different types of gauge symmetry is something I don't see very often in pop-sci.
Lastly, although it verges on philosophy, Einstein's Relativity is an absolute must for any science fan. It's truly inspiring to read the views of a man so passionate about his own theory.
A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
A really interesting read that tells the story of science, right back from the beggining when the philosophers were thinking about the stars to the latest theories on unifying quantum mechanics with general relativity. its filled with all sorts of anecdotes and really makes you interested in how all these discoveries came about!
I'm reading A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson) at the moment but only a chapter in after it's been sat on my shelf for a while! I've also just bought Just Six Numbers (Martin Rees) and Fabric of the Cosmos (Greene) because they seem recommended.
(Original post by F1 fanatic)
I would say not recommended it to non-uni students though. It is technically a graduate text after all, if very well written and very precise in what it says.
Yeah sorry I didn't read any of the other posts at all. You want at least 2 years undergraduate experience before you even touch it. It is a proper physics book though that actually explains things rather than descirbes them.
Last edited by material breach; 02-11-2006 at 17:20.
I'm only about to start university, so from the perspective of what's best prep for degree obviously my experiences are fairly irrelevant.
Regardless, I second Big Bang by Simon Singh, as it was great to have a more detailed look at the development of the theory, rather than just the finished product preceded by a list of names.
And the Feynman recommendations, as he's so charismatic, and he makes the normal stuff, the mechanics and so forth, seem interesting as well as the more exotic and bizarre. Plus, if you hunt around a bit, some of the recordings of him delivering his famous lectures are available online as free audio files for download.
Hey everyone. I've just finished AS Physics and want to buy a Physics book to read over the summer break. I'm really intrested in things like wave-particle duality, diffraction and the photoelectric effect etc. I would also love to read about things like time travel and parallel universes etc. Can anyone recommend any book(s) for me to buy? I don't want anything too thick or too confusing though I've heard a lot of people talk about 'A Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawking. Would this be any good for me? Thanks
You've basically just described the content of "In search of Schrodinger's Cat" by John Gribbins. Obviously needs to be taking with a pinch of salt from what those above have said, but I found it an entertaining as well as informative read, and I was recommended it by my interviewer for PhysPhil at Bristol so it can't be all that bad.