Comprehensive books about the history of physics/mathematics

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I am in search of one or more books that describe the progress in the field of physics (especially during the 18th 19th and 20th century) not only by mentioning the names of lead scientists and the abstract of their work but also have some deeper insights if possible (some math too) last but not least describing the actual practical experiments and proofs and explain how "it all came together" so to say.

I want to get an insight and increase my intuition in terms of the motives of the scientific community the believes of the time and how practically papers got accepted or disputed leading to the modern theory we teach today in the field of physics. What were the questions of each era and how did the masters of the old attempt to answer them etc.

I thank you in advance.
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I have this book (translated) which I enjoy very much, but I don't know whether there is an English version. It covers at least the mathematical part until 1900.
https://www.amazon.fr/Abrégé-dhistoire-mathématiques-Jean-Dieudonné/dp/2705660240&tag=
[In case the link redirects you, try copy and paste on a new tab. The accents might create problems.]

And with regards to the twentieth century, I think this would require a book on its own for both fields. There has happened so much in this century in physics as well as in mathematics, that I find it hard to imagine to include it in a book like the one I quoted.
 
  • #3
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It is difficult to recommend a book that covers all fields in Physics. However, I have two recommendations:

1. The Big and the Small (Volumes 1 and 2) by G. Venkataraman - These books trace back the history of discovery of particles, and thus provide a comprehensive outlook into the making of particle physics.

2. ‎Quantum Revolution (Volumes 1, 2 and 3) - These books trace back the discovery of Quantum Mechanics.

Although the books are in Indian context, you'll not face much difficulties in reading them. The books, while narrating the history, also explain the theorems to some extent.

Also have a look at this answer to a question in History of Science and Maths Stack Exchange.
 
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  • #4
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I thank you both for your answers.

Unfortunately the books have to be in English (or Greek :P ) I know some french Spanish and German too but it would be torture for me to read volumes in those languages.

And it should not be a "simple" text book about a principal(e.g classical physics) they have to involve a narrative of some sort that tries to "combine" historical events associated with the development of physics not just stating the theory in a timeline but for example talk about the atomic model and which people had the most prominent theories and how with the help of what experiment/paper (Geiger–Marsden experiment -also it should talk about how those experiments were conducted) did the model of Rutherford "win" and what did he left unanswered to lead us into Thomson's model.. who measured the speed of light? how did we accept his measurements as correct? what did physicists believe about light its speed and significance before we were able to measure its speed and observe its duality? what observations lead us to quantum theory? etc

And in general it has convey and describe how one scientific experiment or advancement lead to an other.
 
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I thank you both for your answers.

Unfortunately the books have to be in English (or Greek :P ) I know some french Spanish and German too but it would be torture for me to read volumes in those languages.

And it should not be a "simple" text book about a principal(e.g classical physics) they have to involve a narrative of some sort that tries to "combine" historical events associated with the development of physics not just stating the theory in a timeline but for example talk about the atomic model and which people had the most prominent theories and how with the help of what experiment/paper (Geiger–Marsden experiment -also it should talk about how those experiments were conducted) did the model of Rutherford "win" and what did he left unanswered to lead us into Thomson's model.. who measured the speed of light? how did we accept his measurements as correct? what did physicists believe about light its speed and significance before we were able to measure its speed and observe its duality? what observations lead us to quantum theory? etc

And in general it has convey and describe how one scientific experiment or advancement lead to an other.
My books are in English, and they exactly do the last sentence in your message.
 
  • #9
mathwonk
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this may not be what you are seeking, but I myself gained a lot of insight into history of math by reading Euclid. In general I suggest reading historical mathematical sources yourself over summaries by historians. Archimnedes is also excellent in small doses. Similarly I recommend Newton. In both cases one may benefit from a modern guide, such as Hartshorne's Geometry Euclid and beyond, or Michael Spivak's book on physics for mathematicians. another great historical source for algebra is elements of algebra by Euler. a great book on topology is set theory by hausdorff, or the original book on set theory by cantor. apostol's calculus book is also written with a historical perspective. There is also now an English translation of Riemann's works that is quite remarkable.
 
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