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Physics Books for the Layman

  1. Feb 6, 2010 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm a new poster here, so sorry if this question has been asked before! I'm a student in the social sciences and humanities, who often wishes he were a physics major. Physics has always been a passion of mine, and a subject I hope to pursue more seriously someday, when I have the time. I was hoping to get some recommendations for good books on physics intended for laymen, so I can sate my desire to study the subject as best as possible at the moment.

    Thanks all!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2010 #2
    The best way to find out some good books on here is to just scroll through all the thread titles and pick out those that seem relevant. My usual suggestions are:

    Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov
    It's a three volume set that doesn't require any calculus (or hardly any math for that matter) and covers basic mechanics, gravity, electromagnetism, and even particle physics (which is probably a little outdated). It's a great book if you want to get into thinking about physics, as it is truly introductory. It includes a lot of stuff that regular textbooks won't mention.

    Anything and everything by Richard Feynman
    I would suggest QED, but his other books like Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman give a look into his life as a physicist. Feynman's Rainbow is also a good one that includes stories about Feynman, although it was written by Leonard Mlodinow, a young physicist who was at Cal Tech. Feynman was a great thinker, writer, and speaker. A lot of his books were actually written down from recordings of him speaking or being interviewed. He is very funny and easy to read/listen to.

    Anything and everything by George Gamow
    In particular I would suggest the two books Gravity and One Two Three ... Infinity. Like Feynman, he is very clever and funny, and his descriptions are extremely clear. These books actually contain a lot of information and interesting perspectives on math and physics. They're also cheap.

    One reason I always recommend these three authors is that they were all actually scientists and not just popularizers. Asimov was a biochemist and Feynman and Gamov were both physicists who did foundational work in quantum physics.
  4. Feb 6, 2010 #3
    I forgot to mention Relativity Visualized and also Thinking Physics by Lewis Carroll Epstein.

    If you want to do physics, you'll eventually need to learn calculus and more math, and I would recommend Calculus Made Easy to start with. Don't be thrown off by it's title, it is an excellent, irreverent (although a little non-rigorous or rather non-standard) introduction to calculus. It's available for free on Google Books. Don't get the new version with Martin Gardner.
  5. Feb 7, 2010 #4
    Thanks n!kofeyn, I appreciate the suggestions. I have some familiarity with calculus, but I definitely need to brush up on it and improve it.
  6. Feb 13, 2010 #5
    A Brief History of Time by Hawking is pretty good.
  7. Feb 14, 2010 #6
    If your calculus is up to it, try The Feynman Lectures, vol. 1.
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