The 10 Best Physics Books
This wiki has been updated 34 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Now that string theory, black holes, and god particles have entered the mainstream consciousness and turned physicists into celebrities, it's not just students who will find these books fascinating, enlightening, and entertaining. If you're itching to uncover the secrets of the universe, you're sure to find the perfect read for your level of knowledge from within our selection. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 08, 2020:
Unlike our list of physics textbooks, these volumes here are meant to educate, entertain and inspire everyone from the layperson to the casual enthusiast to the graduate student, so you'll find a range of titles to suit those varying needs. If you are looking for some self-instruction, Basic Physics and Fundamentals Of Physics are ideal for beginners, while Principles Of Quantum Mechanics has self-contained chapters that can help shed light on complex concepts for advanced learners.
For this latest update, we decided to add a selection geared toward children, and so you'll find the Baby University Board Book Set joining the ranks today. This four-book set covers Newtonian and quantum physics, as well as rocket science and general relativity. Everything is broken down into pretty simplistic terms, but naturally, not all kids will grasp or be interested in these concepts right away. The nice thing about these books is that they can be compelling to older children as well, so you can shelve them for later if your young one isn't getting it at the outset. They're also a solid choice for multi-child households with youngsters of varying ages. Be aware that some language may need to be explained, so parents without a STEM background may learn a thing or two themselves in the process of reading these to their kids.
Today we also brought on the final book from Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, which was published posthumously. It draws on a vast amount of lectures, speeches, and essays to provide insightful, yet scientifically-backed, answers to some of the most burning questions people, science-minded or not, have about life and the future.
June 19, 2019:
While there wasn't a lot of turnover in this category in recent days, we did say goodbye to Warped Passages by Lisa Randall, which is packed with info for its price, but that isn't as accessible as many other options out there. We've replaced it with Ripples in Spacetime by Govert Schilling, which does a better job tying engaging history lessons in with the development of everything from the theories of general and special relativity to the complex tools designed to detect gravitational waves. We also went ahead and moved Hawking's Illustrated Brief History of Time up to the top of our list, as it's probably one of the most important physics texts of its century.
The American Physical Society The American Physical Society, or APS, is a nonprofit membership organization that works to advance the knowledge of physics through research journals, meetings, education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. They boast 55,000 members, which includes physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry throughout the world. APS is a member organization of the American Institute of Physics, a federation that champions nine other related scientific societies. aps.org
Educational App Store Parents and teachers looking to help youngsters brush up on the sciences can check out the Educational App Store, which has a helpful roundup of physics apps compatible with Android and Apple devices. Students can learn about gravity, inertia, electricity, magnets, gears, and all kinds of intriguing topics and principles. Some apps are advanced enough for high schoolers or laypeople with no background, while others are great for kids of all ages. educationalappstore.com
Let's Get Physical
I didn't take my first physics course until my last semester of college, and it was the most exciting class I'd taken in four years.
I had the terrible misfortune of finding physics too late in life. It's not that I can't enjoy it by reading books like the ones you see here on our list, or that I can't have great conversations with what few of my friends also understand its basics, it's just that I spent a lot of time and education devoted to writing. I didn't take my first physics course until my last semester of college, and it was the most exciting class I'd taken in four years.
As a writer (I specifically studied poetry in school), I received a training that worshiped the ability of the best writers to distill complex emotional realities into immediately relatable images. You can imagine my surprise when my physics professor proved better at this – albeit applied to physical, mathematical concepts instead of emotional ones – than any of my lit professors.
To make matters more exciting, this particular professor had a better sense of humor than any teacher I'd had since high school, and I recalled then that all of my wittiest teachers throughout my life had taught the sciences. There's something in the water they drink, I'd say.
So, here you have physics books by a collection of authors, each of whom is equipped with a scientist's profound understanding of the natural world, as well as that sharp, scientific sense of humor. Somehow, most have also each acquired the distillation power by which they render these incredibly complicated ideas understandable to almost any reader.
What Do You Want To Know?
When people get lost in the study of something without knowing when or where they'll eventually end up, they often describe the experience as "going down the rabbit hole." The reference makes use of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, but her journey down the rabbit hole is a brief one, for she emerges in another world rather quickly, and she eventually returns from that world back to her own.
While most studious endeavors eventually return us to our point of origin, their destinations aren't quite so definitive. Perhaps, had Carroll a more modern understanding of physics, Alice would have found herself traveling through a worm hole, or into a black hole, which would better imply the student's apparent inability to escape the topic under scrutiny.
They're written in a tone that is neither unapologetically heady nor condescendingly simple.
Among the books on our list, some may exert more gravitational force on you than others, and some may work on you as though they contained a like magnetic force to your own, the two of you repelling each other. It's difficult to know which will be the case without opening any of them, but there are some things to consider before proceeding.
The first thing you ought to do is evaluate your current level of understanding in physics. For the longest time, I was content to explore the depth of the most basic physics, intimidated as I was by quantum concepts. For me in those days, books like Physics In Mind and The Fabric Of The Cosmos appealed most greatly to me, as they took physical concepts I'd come to understand and applied them to larger philosophical questions about epistemology and astronomy. They're written in a tone that is neither unapologetically heady nor condescendingly simple.
If you've only just begun to whet your appetite for physics, however, there are quite a few books that are decidedly simple and direct. These will outfit you with immensely understandable images and metaphors for understanding and explaining the roots of all physics. The good thing is that none of them stops there, as each takes the knowledge they provide and pushes you further with it.
Then, there are the books for those students of physics who've already attained a deep understanding of the basics, and who are ready to expand their knowledge outward into the realms and consequences of quantum theory. It turns out to be far less intimidating than it might seem at first, especially when you consider that these authors employ the same wit and analogous models that make all physics so relatable.
As Far Back As It Goes
The actual study of physics was less a study of the physical world for its own sake and more a study of astronomy, mechanics, optics, and even the most rudimentary tools of our ancestors. It wasn't until the 7th century B.C.E. that Greek philosophers began to study physical properties for their own elucidation. The study caught on, and by the 4th century the term physics had its place among the great intellectual efforts.
The study caught on, and by the 4th century the term physics had its place among the great intellectual efforts.
Other nations and regions developed their own physical studies, as well, with Chinese philosophers delving into the makeup of their world around the 3rd century B.C.E. In the Islamic world, scientists influenced by the Greek and western Chinese lines of thought pushed our understanding even further along, laying the groundwork for the next revolutions in astronomy and mathematics.
In the 20th century, minds like those of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking have opened up new veins of study, and popularized a sector of learning that had once been far less cool. Now, people like the late Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson have achieved celebrity status through their work in astrophysics, and brilliant authors and scientists continue to provide us with great, intriguing reads.