Complete Amateur Needs List of Reading Material

In summary, this person is searching for books about physics that are easier to follow for someone with a limited math background. They suggest books by Feynman, Gamow, and Asimov. They also recommend Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov.
  • #1
I'm sure this has been asked numerous times so I apologize ahead of time. I have no physics background but have been increasing interested and have read a few books in the recent months and my curiosity has only grown. So far I have read the following.

In Search of Schrodinger's Cat - John Gribbin
The Theory of Everything - Stephen Hawking
The Quantum World - Kenneth Ford
Before the Big Bang - Brian Clegg
The Elegant Universe - Brian Greene

I am searching for more books to read and thought I would turn to the physics community to point me in the right direction. My math skills are so-so. I was an advanced math student throughout high school but only went as far as Calculus I, Business Cal and Statistics I in college.

I would prefer books written conceptually rather than being math intensive but will be glad for recommendations that will enable me to better understand either. If there is an existing thread that adresses my question please post a link.
Physics news on
  • #2
Wow 33 views and not one reply? Please folks I need some direction. Have some pitty on a layman!
  • #3
Well, Brian Greene has another book named "The Fabric of the Cosmos".
  • #4
I might de-recommend Brian Greene. His books are very fanciful, but I don't think they do anything for anyone's knowledge of physics. They're more of a media blitz to again popularize string theory. Brian Greene reminds me too much of a car salesman.

I recommend everything and anything by George Gamow and Richard Feynman. Feynman's lectures are too technical for what you're wanting, but his other books are fantastic. QED is a readable technical text by him that requires very little background, and there is also Six Easy Pieces, which are more accessible excerpts from his lecture series. Others are just him telling stories, which are great. Gamow is a great writer as well. His books like Gravity, Thirty Years that Shook Physics, One Two Three ... Infinity, amongst others, are very easy to read, but contain a wealth of information. Both of these guys were well known for their personalities and were actual contributors to physics, particularly quantum theory.

Another suggestion is Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov. This is the author of I, Robot, but he was also a scientist. This three volume book covers nearly all main areas of physics without using calculus. It's highly recommended.

For a more instruction type book, I recommend Head First Physics. Do not be thrown off by the apparent silliness of the cover and book. This series is highly respected, and I have used them to learn HTML and JAVA, while a friend used their statistics book in a calculus based university course. This physics text only covers basic Newtonian mechanics, but their writing style is fun and highly non-intimidating, the way science should be.

My advice is to stay away from the popularizing fluff out there. Even Stephen Hawking's books have never suited my taste. They don't have anything to draw you in except pretty pictures. Seeing a pictures and talking about worm holes and branes doesn't do anything for one's knowledge of physics. Feynman, Gamow, and Asimov bring you into their world and personalities, all the while teaching you with substance and not just flair.
  • #5
A little over a year ago, I was in your exact position. (It's not a unique position by any means, as you'll find out if you stick around the board long enough).

I would highly recommend Feynman's Lectures on Physics.

If you have any recollection of Calculus, you'll be able to follow his lectures (at least closely enough to see that you're reading "real" physics being presented as exciting as "layman" physics in novels.)

My initial physics burst included:
Probability 1 (Amir Azcyl?)
The Universe on a T-shirt
Warped Passages (Lisa Randall)

If it make any difference to you, I eventually went back to school for physics and will have worked through the material for a Physics and Math major after this year. It was the best choice I ever made (most of the time)
  • #6
Do you remember Calculus? It is A LOT easier to understand and appreciate the popular-level books if you have an elementary physics backround(at the High School level).

For Example:
Feynman's Lectures on Physics
Fundementals of Physics-Halliday/Resinick
Modern Physics-Tipler
Physics for Scientists and engineers-Tipler
University Physics-Young Freedman

From there, it is easier to understand popular level modern physics.
  • #7
Penrose's book is excellent I think.

It's a bit of a mix between a laymans guide and a physics textbook. There is a quite a bit of math in it but he goes a long way towards trying to explain it to laymen. Lots of quite nice diagrams etc.

Anyways, I really enjoyed it, and I have no background in math, just a big curiosity and a lot of patience when it comes to understanding these things. So after you read it 2-3 times, and maybe look up the hard stuff in other books, you will get it...

  • #8
If you happen to want a nice quick read try looking at one or two of the 'Very Short Introductions'. They're usually pretty well written and can provide a nice little overview of some interesting areas often providing further references. Very reasonably priced too.

Also look at Schutz' introductory book on Gravity (not the green GR book!):

Bernard Schutz: Preface to the Book said:
You may already have guessed that this book is not a “gee-whizz” tour of the Uni-
verse: this is a book for people who are not afraid to think, who want to understand
what gravity is, who want to go beyond the superficial level of understanding that
many popular books settle for. But this is also not an advanced texbook. We shall
steer a careful middle course between the over-simplification of some popular treat-
ments and the dense complexity of many advanced mathematical texts.

This book has equations, but the equations use algebra and (a little) trigonometry,
not advanced university mathematics. What is required in place of advanced
mathematics is thought: readers are asked to reason carefully, to follow the links
between subjects. You will find that you can climb the ladder from gravity on the
Earth to gravity (and even anti-gravity) in the Universe if you go one step at a time,
making sure you place each foot securely and carefully on the rungs as you climb.​

See:" for table of contents, preface and so on.

* Sorry for the links!
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #9
Thanks for the recommendations and warnings. I will look into all of this and report back.

@ Troponin - If I had read S's Cat when I was a teenager I would have pursued an education in physics instead of wasting my time with a business degree!

@ Gamow, Feynman, Asimov, an Penrose, I have read enough to be intimidated by those names. Hopefully I can make heads or tails of their writings.

As for Brian Greene, I must admit I was the least impressed by Elegant Universe though conceptually I find a theory that can incorporate QM/QFT and GR to be incredible.

And for the Stephen Hawking book I read goes, I found it to be the least informative of everything I have read so far which was a huge dissapointment.
  • #10
M. David Mermin, It's About Time is an excellent introduction to Special Relativity without handwaving or poetics.

Taylor and Wheeler's, Spacetime Physics should also be accessible, and their Exploring Black Holes: Introduction to General Relativity is a sequel in the same spirit.

The Feynman Lectures, the MIT Physics series by A. P. French -- particularly Newtonian Mechanics and Vibrations and Waves -- and the Berkeley Physics series.

Related to Complete Amateur Needs List of Reading Material

1. What are some recommended books for complete amateurs?

There are many great options for complete amateurs looking to learn about a particular subject. Some popular books include "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson, "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari, and "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.

2. Are there any specific reading materials for beginners in a specific field?

Yes, there are many books geared towards beginners in specific fields. For example, "The Feynman Lectures on Physics" by Richard Feynman is a great option for those interested in physics, while "The Art of Computer Programming" by Donald Knuth is a classic for those looking to learn about computer science.

3. Where can I find free reading materials for beginners?

There are several websites that offer free ebooks and articles for beginners, such as Project Gutenberg, Open Library, and Google Books. Many public libraries also offer free digital resources that can be accessed with a library card.

4. Are there any online resources that can supplement my reading materials?

Yes, there are many online resources that can supplement your reading materials. Websites such as Khan Academy, Coursera, and TED Talks offer videos and lectures on various subjects that can enhance your understanding and provide additional information.

5. How can I keep track of my reading materials and progress?

There are many apps and tools available that can help you keep track of your reading materials and progress. Goodreads is a popular platform for tracking books you've read and want to read, while apps like Evernote and Trello can be used to create reading lists and track your progress.

Similar threads

  • Science and Math Textbooks
  • Science and Math Textbooks
  • Science and Math Textbooks
  • Science and Math Textbooks
  • STEM Academic Advising
  • Science and Math Textbooks
  • Science and Math Textbooks
  • Science and Math Textbooks