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Complete Amateur Needs List of Reading Material

  1. Dec 9, 2009 #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 curiousity 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 highschool 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.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2009 #2
    Wow 33 views and not one reply? Please folks I need some direction. Have some pitty on a layman!
  4. Dec 9, 2009 #3
    Well, Brian Greene has another book named "The Fabric of the Cosmos".
  5. Dec 9, 2009 #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.
  6. Dec 10, 2009 #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)
  7. Dec 10, 2009 #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.
  8. Dec 10, 2009 #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...

  9. Dec 10, 2009 #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!):

    See: http://www.gravityfromthegroundup.org/" for table of contents, preface and so on.

    * Sorry for the .co.uk links!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Dec 12, 2009 #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 persued 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.
  11. Dec 12, 2009 #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.
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