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Are physicists poor writers?

  1. Sep 17, 2016 #1
    Ok, so, at home I have "Disappearing Spoon", "Uncle Tungsten", "The Joys of Chemistry" and "Chemistry Imagined", to name but a few "general reader" science books. Interestingly, none of them are written specifically with Physics in mind. Does anyone know of any writer who's not writing a Physics textbook, but who simply wants to fire the imagination of the "general reader"? ( I know, I asked this before, but, I got mainly textbook recommendations - one of which I went and bought)

    If I'm right, (which is rare) there's a paucity of Physics books for the "general reader". I wonder why? Are physicists poor writers? Do publishers feel that no one will be interested in this "hard stuff" anyway? And if you are a physicist reading this, does the shortage of books amplify your feelings of exclusivity, or do you feel "Damn, we could do with a few more books that'll engage the average intelligent reader"?
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 17, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 17, 2016 #2


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    All of the above and one more you missed: anything a physicist does to make a book more "readable" for non physicists will necessarily reduce its accuracy and completeness, and that's just plain against their religion.
  4. Sep 17, 2016 #3
    That's a very good point indeed. And, on the whole I agree with you and Galileo's quote about the "book of the universe" being written in Maths. But, I do feel like I'm letting Physicists off the hook in doing so. How come the "Chemists" can fire the imagination of the general reader, without becoming too bogged down in detail? You CAN lie, you know! We learners get it. Later, we know we'll have to modify the analogy/metaphor, because it doesn't quite match the reality. We get that! Maybe Physicist don't care? Maybe, they're happy in their elitist world, looking down on the rest of us, "the great unwashed":)
  5. Sep 17, 2016 #4


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    Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law
    Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
    Carl Sagan, Cosmos
    Jim Baggot, The Quantum Story
    Hubert Reeves, The Universe Explained to my Grandchildren

    just to name a few...
  6. Sep 17, 2016 #5
    Thanks. Looks like I have some shopping to do!
  7. Sep 17, 2016 #6
    Are you familiar with Isaac Asimov a chemist by profession he has authored over sixty books on science and science fiction. He wrote an "Understanding Physics" Series about 1966: including books on Motion, Sound and Heat:;Light, Magnetism and Electricity; and The Electron, Proton, and Neutron. His Robot series has be adapted for TV and film ( " Robot" (2004) many times.
  8. Sep 17, 2016 #7
    Actually, in the 1960's there was a huge number of physics and science books published for the average reader. I have found all kinds of these at the swap meet and in used book stores.

    One of my favorites is called, "Horns, Strings & Harmony," by Arthur H. Benade. It's extremely well written. And, it's part of a series put out by Anchor Books called, simply, "Science Study Series." There are 56 books in the series: plenty to keep you occupied for a good while, if you can find them. Each book has a suggested reading list of others (from outside the series) on the same subject.

    My other favorite from this series is "Magnets," by Francis Bitter, the man who discovered magnetic domains in ferrous metals.

    Some may find them too "dumbed down," but the point was obviously to pique the interest of young people with good minds and encourage them to go deeper. Two or three are by George Gamow, who was a fairly prestigious physicist:


    and whose book, "One, Two, Three...Infinity!" may be the best known of the series.
  9. Sep 17, 2016 #8


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    I didn't know they can - I can't think of any famous chemists who published non-expert books, but can think of a handful of physicists who have.
    I somewhat agree, but that's like fingernails on a chalkboard to a lot of people here and I gather among professional scientists (and there are a bunch here).
    Well, yeah, they probably don't care; writing books for non-physicists just isn't in any physicist's job description. But don't mistake that for elitism; it's realism.
  10. Sep 17, 2016 #9
    No, I was not aware of these titles. Damn you! I shall be putting skid marks on my credit card while on Amazon:) Many thanks!
  11. Sep 17, 2016 #10
    Extremely grateful to you for sharing these. My wife is currently wrestling the credit cards from my clutches, lest I go crazy with the book-shopping.
  12. Sep 17, 2016 #11
    I just searched for "Horns, Strings, and Harmony," on Amazon and they have about 4000 copies that can be had for a penny plus $4 shipping. The same is probably true for all the books in the series. Still, I'm sure you could get them for even less at some hole-in-the-wall used book store, or at a swap meet, if you can find them. The 1950's and 60's were a golden age for science popularization.
  13. Sep 17, 2016 #12
    That was pretty decent of you to do that search. Thanks.

    Let me ask you this then: Do you think the internet doing as much, less, or more, than the books of the 50's and 60's, to popularize Science? And how would we really know?
  14. Sep 17, 2016 #13
    Did you have a book title you wished to share?
  15. Sep 17, 2016 #14
    Much more. Based on my own experience. In my formative years 50's and 60's having become interested in science (by what means I do not know) In order to find out more about it I had to go to the public library and browse through the stacks. I knew no scientists and had access to none. Sure there where an occasional TV program Mister Wizard once a week or programs out of the American Museum of Natural History. So you had to work at finding out about science. Learning was slower. Also It seemed that there where fewer books suitable for the young budding scientist. Today well really it is so easy with web sites like Physics Forum, university sponsored sites, personal science sites.etc, To motivate kids to use this info you have the STEM programs everywhere. The only issue on the internet is that some sites have bad science for which the unknowing can be lead astray.
  16. Sep 17, 2016 #15
    I pretty much have no idea.
  17. Sep 17, 2016 #16
    I'm a mid 50 year old myself. Grew up in Ireland. I'm inclined to agree with you, based purely on personal observations. I do think today's kids are luckier than we were. There's been fantastic developments also in "kid-friendly" books, and as you say, the internet is such a wonderful resource, notwithstanding the occasional rubbish out there.

    Are you optimistic about the future of Science Learning? I am. I don't see why the overall level of curiosity would in our world would decrease, and so, with more access to wonderful materials, I think we'll see even more scientists emerge. I've no evidence for this of course. Maybe the question will become: Well, what's it all for then, this "scientific advancement?".
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 17, 2016
  18. Sep 17, 2016 #17
    Do you personally find the internet to be beneficial in advancing your own knowledge and understanding of Science?
  19. Sep 17, 2016 #18


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    It's been awhile since I've browsed in a bookstore, but the last time I did, there were a lot of books written about physics topics intended for the general public. A few have been mentioned earlier in the thread. I'll add QED by Feynman and Dreams of a Final Theory by Weinberg. These are pretty old titles now, but I'm sure there's new stuff always coming out.

    Fortunately, books don't hold their value well, so you can probably pick up a lot of used books pretty cheaply. In addition to Amazon, you might want to check out half.com as well.
  20. Sep 17, 2016 #19
    How very kind of you. Thanks for taking time to make these recommendations.
  21. Sep 17, 2016 #20


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    I have to agree with this, as a child back in the 50's and 60's you just didn't have access to the books and information. I remember being at the library once and was looking at some books about math and the librarian saw me, and came over and took the book away from me, laughing and said "no dear, these books aren't for children, and walked me over to the children's storybooks, these are the books for children your age". I was so mad.
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