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3-5 books on a desert island

  1. Aug 10, 2009 #1
    Ok, this is my first post here. I looked around the forum and sub-forums real quick. I don't know where else to post this but if this is in the wrong sub-forum then the mods or admins should feel free to move it to another subforum :

    Someone you know is going to be stuck on a desert island for a significant amount of time and while he is there he wants to learn physics to pass the time away (he will be provided with supplies to allow him to focus on reading and leisure for the most part). However, there is a stipulation on how many books he can bring. He can only bring about 5 or 6 books and he has to learn phsyics from these alone doing syntopical reading. So what books would you recommend this person bring with him to the island if he asked for your expert advice on the matter ?

    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2009 #2


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    If these may be series, I'd go for:
    - the Feynman lectures
    - Landau and Lifgarbagez

    I don't know if I have to include math books.
  4. Aug 10, 2009 #3
    Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction by Howard Irving Chapelle
  5. Aug 10, 2009 #4
    I would recommend that he bring 5 blank books. Writing a book takes far longer and is more mentally stimulating than reading one.
  6. Aug 10, 2009 #5

    George Jones

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    For someone that already knows math and physics, A Unified Grand Tour of Theoretical Physics by Ian D. Lawrie,


    If I were limited to one book for my exile to a desert island, I personally would choose without any hesitation The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose,

    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  7. Aug 11, 2009 #6
    I think angevin is trying to say that he doesn't have much money to make an entire library.

    How much money are you willing to spend?

    Generally, look for dover books. They are cheap.

    EDIT: Actually, I would buy a book telling you how to build a steam engine. And one book to tell you how to build a raft. One book to tell you how to desalinate water. And one book to tell you how to run all of the above on coconuts.
  8. Aug 11, 2009 #7


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    Probably some books that are comprehensive and (way) too sophisticated for me:

    Semi-Riemannian​ Geometry With Applications to Relativity (O'Neill)
    The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time (Hawking)
    Superstring theory (Green, Schwartz)
    Foundations of mechanics (Abraham, Marsden)
    Lie Groups (Duistermaat, Kolk)

    Or, if series are allowed, I am thinking of Simon+Reed, Spivak's Dif. Geometry, Hörmander, L+L.

    I think I will certainly be able to pass some time with these...
  9. Sep 7, 2009 #8
    First let me apologize for taking so long to respond. The motherboard on my laptop computer blew and it was not economical to fix it so I finally got around to fixing an older computer that a relative had and upgrading it some (the relative gave it to me). Thank you the replies everyone while I was away from the forum.

    I'm not a physicist but I already figured out before I posted this question that The Feynman lectures would be on the list (but you wouldn't have known that since I didn't mention it). The only physics books I have read in my lifetime are "Understanding Physics" by Isaac Asimov (which is now dated and out of print) and "Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking" by William H. Cropper (actually a mixture of a history book and a technical science book rather than just a straight up science book). Also since science teachers (whether formally or informally through authored books) like their students to be pre-taught to some degree unlike philosophy teachers let us assume that we don't have to include math books. However, even if the hypothetical person only understood basic calculus with applications to physics in pre-graduate student level degree beforehand I think just the book : "Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics" by Frederick W. ByronJr. and Robert W. Fuller" would be enough. However, since I said learn physics generally altogether as a whole in my first post that presupposes what I just said there to not be germane or at least not completely germane ( even though the Feynman Lectures are undegraduate level). Let us just ignore that however since this is a thought experiment. Let us not get too pedantic on that particular issue. Anyway, no math books are necessary (at least not while learning the subject that is). I think the Feynman lectures series are allowed according to my rules laid above because you can find them all in one book. I looked at the Landau and Lifschitz series real quick superficially on Amazon.com and I could not find them in a format of one book. Also the Feynman lectures were given between 1961-1964 and the Landau and Lifschitz series seem to have been written in the 80s or mostly in the 80s so maybe that fills in gaps were the Feynman lectures left off. I know events/findings/discoveries etc.. have happened in physics since that time though but since I am not a physicist I cannot judge how important they are. For instance from 1989-2000 these things happened :

    *experimental evidence for only three generations of quarks and leptons are discovered
    *evidence for the top quark is reported
    * the t neutrino is detected

    That is not what I am implying. I want to learn physics but I don't want to be a physicist (at least not at this point in my life nor for the foreseable future right now). I want a broad elite education whether in the formal context or informal context matters not to me. I will learn anyway that I can. So since I want a broad education I do not want to have to read/study more books on the topic than necessary because time is of the essence and because it is not efficient for my needs. Please only expert physicists reply in this thread. I appreciate people interested in physics in varying levels trying to help me here but I would prefer if only experts chime in here. I actually thought about emailing this question to Ivy league physics professors, MIT professors or a MIT professor and Michio Kaku but I decided it is better to try here first before bothering these people (I'm not sure they would even respond to me anyway).
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2009
  10. Sep 7, 2009 #9
    No sorry I test as an INTP on the Myers-Briggs test so I'm not so sure that would be a useful book for me on a desert island (even though this below is a humorous not entirely serious or not a serious description) :

    In all seriousness though this a thought experiment so forget about your practical non-theoretical suggestions like the one above.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2009
  11. Sep 7, 2009 #10
    Oops, nevermind ! I think the Feynman lectures probably cannot be found in one book. I am probably wrong. Either 1-3 books or 1-4 books seems standard for this series. So I change my mind. Series are allowed but preferably if they can be sold all at once like the Feynman series in a single bundle. Although I guess all series are allowed. Sorry (mea culpa) for the mistake but I'm only human and humans make mistakes. I can change my rules on the fly since this is my thought experiment afterall.
  12. Sep 7, 2009 #11
    Writing an expository book such as a science book without other book and periodical research/reference sources is stupid. So your suggestion is no good. That could be done writing a fictional book but fictional books are off topic here since they are not science books ! You fail !

    Last edited: Sep 7, 2009
  13. Sep 7, 2009 #12
    Actually, I just remembered that I also read "Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension" by Michio Kaku while still in Highschool in the 1990s. I don't remember it being very tehnical though. Seems like it is was not written for specialists but for the general public. That was the first physics book I ever read.
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