Books

Since beginning this project I have read many excellent books and papers.  Here are some of the best.

  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics, The Definitive Edition Volume 2 (2nd Edition)

    Feynman is a hero of modern physics and probably the most often mentioned.  

    Most physicists' offices contain these slim red volumes in which Feynman and colleagues at Caltech set out to teach undergrad physics in a new way.

     
  • Einstein's Dreams

    A beautiful jewel of a book by MIT physicist-writer Alan Lightman.  Evocative and poetic stories of lives in worlds where time operates differently.

     
  • Spacetime Physics

    A wisely and beautifully explained book on special relativity.

     
  • Optics (4th Edition)

    A favourite text bringing to life the myriad ways we think of light in physics.

     
  • American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

    Gripping biography of the enigmatic scientist, Robert Oppenheimer and portrait of the state of the world in the mid- twentieth century.

     
  • A Cultural History of Physics

    Recently translated from the early versions in Hungarian and German.  An encyclopedic work charting the history of scientific thought and ways of envisioning nature.  Good imagery, interesting charts and quotes from across the centuries. 

     
  • The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn [DECKLE EDGE] (Hardcover)

    This was the first book that Terry Rudolph gave to me when I met him.  Louisa Gilder (who began her career studying physics and then switched to writing) spent eight years on this scholarly and beautiful book reasearching the incredible and mysterious quantum phenomenon of entanglement.  She deftly recreates conversations and interactions between scientists from Einstein and Bohr, through John Bell to now.  The book is illustrated with Louisa's scratchy pencil portraits.

     
  • The Privilege of Being a Physicist

    Victor Weisskopf was a physicist.  He wrote lucidly and beautifully on what it is to be a physicist and do physics.

     
  • The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

    This is probably the most common pop-science book that I find in phyicists' offices or that they refer to. Graham Farmelo has done a stunning job managing the detail as well as creating a riveting page turner. Dirac, who hailed from Britain is arguably our second most important scientist after Newton and outside of science few people have heard of him.  Committed to beautiful mathematics he wrote the first theory of the electron and his equations at the time stunningly and controversially predicted the existence of anti-matter, which had never been discovered or contemplated.  Experimentalists began the search for it and now it's used in positron emission technology (PET) scanners in hospitals.

    Louisa Gilder's review for the New York Times: 

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/books/review/Gilder-t.html?_r=1

     
  • Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe (P.S.)

    Imperial College alumni, Simon Singh has written this excellent book telling the story of the beginning of our universe and how we came to figure it out.  I know people who've loved this book from ages 13 to 91.

     
  • The Character of Physical Law (Penguin Press Science)

    These lectures are a joy.  Given by Feynman as part of the Messenger Lecture series in 1964, they paint a picture of what the physicist is actually finding out and how he or she goes about it.

     
  • QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton Science Library)

    Along with Schwinger and Tomonaga, Feynman was awarded the Nobel prize for his theory of everything - how light and matter interact.  The phenomenal accuracy of this theory is made even more remarkable when you have an insight into the wacky calculations that deliver the answers.  In this book, Feynman boils down and explains his approach in terms a logical layperson can understand.  

    The model used in Quantum Electrodynamics was then extrapolated as the basis for the theories for the weak and strong forces.

     
  • The State of the Universe: A Primer in Modern Cosmology

    Astrophysicist, Pedro Ferreirra at Oxford University has written this great primer in astrophysics and cosmology, with some epic scenes about the beginning of our universe.  Pedro also leads the artist in residence programme in Oxford's physics department.

     
  • Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality

    Manjit Kumar begins this story of quantum mechanics at the Solvay Conference.  In an incredible readable book, he charts the great adventure and the philosophical conundrums of quantum mechanics.

     
  • The Common Sense of Science (Harvard Paperbacks)

    Check out Jacob Bronowski on science.  probably most famous for his 1970's 'Ascent of Man' series on the BBC, he has lots of interesting things to say about the role of science in civilisation.

     
  • Boojums All the Way through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age

    Physicist David Mermin has written some interesting essays on the nature of the quantum phenomenon, entanglement.  To my mind, they seem a bit dry, being reductive and not really requiring a knowledge of physics.  However, they carefully lead you through a logical portrayal of our experience of this feature of nature.  Richard Feynman famously cited one of Mermin's papers on this subject as being one of the most beautiful he'd ever read.

     
  • Introduction to Elementary Particles

    For text books, David Griffiths is hard to beat.  Here is his work on particle physics, but check him out on electrodynamics, quantum mechanics and beyond.

     
  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb

    Some say this is the most perfect book ever written about an episode in physics.  

     
  • Knowledge and Wonder

    I love this book, for its beautiful and careful survey of our universe seen through the eyes of physicist Victor Weisskopf.

     
  • Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (Dover Books on Physics)

    A selection of talks given to supposedly lay audiences on atomic physics and life.  Notorious for his sometime convoluted way of expressing himself, this brilliant Danish scientist and one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics is still worth a read.