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Best books that AREN'T textbooks

  1. Dec 7, 2006 #1
    I know how much people love textbooks and shun anything that isn't completely dry and rigorous, but sometimes I like to read books that will give me a general appreciation of physics and the world around me instead of derivations of equations. So, can anyone list some "must reads" - old or new - that are like this?? Suggestions made in this thread:

    - FLOP - Richard Feynman
    - QED - Richard Feynman
    - Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins
    - Big Bang : The Origin of the Universe – Simon Singh
    - The Elegant Universe - Brian Greene
    - A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking
    - Time, Space and Things - Ridley
    - General Relativity from A to B - Geroch
    - Thirty Years that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory - Gamow,
    - Gravity - Gamow
    - One, Two, Three... Infinity - Gamow
    - Mr Tompkins - Gamow
    - Biography of Physics - Gamow
    - Journey into Gravity and Spacetime - Wheeler
    - The Cosmic Frontiers of General Relativity - Kaufmann
    - It's About Time - N. David Mermin
    - Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension - Rucker
    - Space, Time, and Gravity: The Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes - Wald
    - Basic Concepts of Physics - Chalmers Sherwin
    - Primer of Quantum Mechanics - Chester
    - Lagrangian Interaction: An Introduction to Relativistic Symmetry in Electrodynamics and Gravitation - Doughty
    - A Guide to Feynman Diagrams in the Many-Body Problem - Mattuck
    - Diagrammatica - Veltman
    - Subtle Is the Lord - Pais
    - The Road to Reality - Penrose
    - Gravitational Curvature - Frankel
    - Fermat's Last Theorem - Simon Singh
    - The Forces of Nature - Davies

    edit: Updated with a list of suggestions in this thread (bold if they got more than one recommendation)
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2006 #2


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    A Brief History Of Time? (Hawking)
  4. Dec 7, 2006 #3
    hmm does it have to be text related as in having thorough explanations of phenomena and others or can it be anything physics related, like the history of relativity and whatnot
  5. Dec 7, 2006 #4
    Anything science related, as long as it's interesting! I very much enjoyed Bill Bryson's Theory of Everything even though the science was very very basic.

    Read it, of course :)
  6. Dec 7, 2006 #5
    My list is somewhat heavy on relativity books bacause that was a obsession when I first read many of these. Interestingly, a lot of cranks are similarly obsessed. Hmmm.

    Ridley, Time, Space and Things. How to think about basic concepts like space and time. In its 3rd edition.

    Geroch, General Relativity from A to B.

    Gamow, Thirty Years that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory.
    Gamow, Gravity
    Gamow, One, Two, Three... Infinity
    Gamow, Mr Tompkins (various incarnations)
    Gamow, Biography of Physics

    Or any Gamow book, really, though sadly some of them are very out of date.

    Feynman, QED.
    Feynman, Lectures on Physics

    Wheeler, Journey into Gravity and Spacetime. If that "boundary of a boundary" stuff in Gravitation flew over your head, Wheeler explains it here in non-mathematical way.

    Kaufmann, The Cosmic Frontiers of General Relativity. This had cool stuff like what falling into a black hole would look like to the falling observer.

    N. David Mermin, It's About Time. The best intro to special relativity. Not a poetry book.

    Rucker, Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension. Rucker also writes whacky science fiction.

    Wald, Space, Time, and Gravity: The Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes

    Chalmers Sherwin, Basic Concepts of Physics. One of those wonderful jewels produced during the early space age. This does have a textbook format, but I think it failed as a textbook because it doesn't really fit into the curriculum anywhere (though I think it would make a pretty good "modern physics" textbook if supplemented. Oh, and it hadn't been out of print for 40 years.) The "basic concepts" are classical mechanics, relativity, electricity, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics.

    Chester, Primer of Quantum Mechanics. This does have problem sets, but it's not really a standalone QM textbook, but more of a supplement for students who are wondering what it's all about.

    Doughty, Lagrangian Interaction: An Introduction to Relativistic Symmetry in Electrodynamics and Gravitation . A broad survey of relativistic symmetry, with lots of historical asides and interesting nuggets of information.

    Mattuck, A Guide to Feynman Diagrams in the Many-Body Problem.

    Veltman, Diagrammatica

    Pais, Subtle Is the Lord. Scientific biography of Einstein.

    Penrose, The Road to Reality.

    Frankel, Gravitational Curvature. A little monograph on the beauty of GR math. Even the printing of the equations on the page is very pretty.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2006
  7. Dec 8, 2006 #6
    Here's one more vote for Mr.Tompkins...

    Fermat's Last Theorem - Simon Singh
  8. Dec 8, 2006 #7


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    And one more vote for Simon's Singh's Fermat's last theorem!
  9. Dec 8, 2006 #8
    Quite ironic...
  10. Dec 8, 2006 #9


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    Timothy Ferris' books usually have a nice content about astronomy and astrophysics.
    i read the whole she bang, or something like that.
    it was my second popular science book, and it was better than my first reading which was stephen hawking's best seller.
  11. Dec 8, 2006 #10


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    The book is about 30 years old now, but Davies' "The Forces of Nature" was an entertaining read.
  12. Dec 8, 2006 #11
  13. Dec 8, 2006 #12
    err...I meant that the name of such a successful set of books has been shortened to word that means 'Failure'.
  14. Dec 8, 2006 #13
    Cosmos by Carl Sagan (somewhat outdated, but still a great read)
  15. Dec 8, 2006 #14
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  16. Dec 8, 2006 #15
    In Search of Schrodinger's Cat - John Gribbin
  17. Dec 8, 2006 #16
    This book was more about history than about math, but it was still a good read:

    The Calculus Wars
    by Jason Bardi
  18. Dec 9, 2006 #17
    Sometimes biographies are good too. For example, The End of the Certain World is a biography about Max Born and talks about the development of quantum mechanics. More math related, but still interesting, is Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire. It talks about the Riemann zeta function.
  19. Dec 9, 2006 #18


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    "Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos" by Dennis Overbye is a pretty entertaining book, with lots of anecdotes and personal insights into the characters of the astronomers and physicists of the 20th C.
  20. Dec 9, 2006 #19
    I don't know if this is a popular (as in 'well-known') book, but David Malin's "A Guide to Stars, Nebulae and Galaxies" (or something like that) was the one that got me really interested. It was my first exposure to pop-sci, and more importantly, science (the stuff at school was something that I had commit to memory than understand). It was only after reading that book did I realise that there was more to the universe than the solar system and a few galaxies. The images by Akira Fujji blew me away!
  21. Dec 9, 2006 #20


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    David is a hell of a nice guy, as well as a very talented astrophotographer. He and Paul Murdin wrote a book call "Colours of the Stars" that got me obsessed with astrophotography with color film. Another book that inspired me was Hans Vehrenberg's "Atlas of Deep-Sky Splendors".
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