The 10 Best Physics Books

Updated June 03, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

10 Best Physics Books
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We spent 38 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top picks for this wiki. Now that string theory, black holes and God particles have entered the mainstream consciousness and turned physicists into cultural stars, it's not just students who will find these physics books fascinating, enlightening and entertaining. If you're itching to discover the secrets of the universe, you're sure to find the perfect read for your level of knowledge from our selection. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best physics book on Amazon.

10. Beyond the God Particle

Beyond the God Particle is designed to be read after the first book, "The God Particle," and helps you delve further into the research and breakthroughs that are happening now. It discusses key questions that will occupy physicists for years to come.
  • uses thoughtful everyday language
  • somewhat illogical chapter layout
  • only for those educated on the topic
Publisher Prometheus Books
Model n/a
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

9. Deep Down Things

Deep Down Things explains in a straightforward manner the standard model of particle physics and blends together some of the past century's most notable physicists' research. It ends with a questioning note designed to get you thinking.
  • sets the stage for new discoveries
  • discusses a wide range of concepts
  • leaves out vital mathematics
Publisher Schumm, Bruce A.
Model n/a
Weight 1.5 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. Basic Physics

Basic Physics is designed to take a complicated subject and make it simple to help the home learner teach themselves. It's also a great refresher for students who may have forgotten some of the basic concepts and are preparing for an advanced course.
  • uses relevant examples
  • builds concepts gradually
  • some may find it too rudimentary
Publisher imusti
Model n/a
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

7. The Elegant Universe

The Elegant Universe defines a multidimensional world where the fabric of space is constantly ripping apart and repairing itself. It includes a range of very sophisticated ideas that may be better suited to those who have previous knowledge of the field
  • well written for an abstract topic
  • satisfying to scientific readers
  • contains many technical terms
Publisher W W Norton Company
Model n/a
Weight 12.6 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

6. The Black Hole War

The Black Hole War explains the incredible science behind black holes that came about from Leonard Susskind's and Stephen Hawking's disputing ideas. It has a conversational prose that makes the book easily understood by a wide audience.
  • uses math to illustrate problems
  • provides good visual metaphors
  • full of wonderful insights
Publisher Susskind, Leonard
Model n/a
Weight 15.5 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. The Fabric of the Cosmos

The Fabric of the Cosmos offers readers a set of profound questions about the universe and delves deeply into theories that may provide the answers. The author Brian Greene reveals our world to be very different from what we commonly believe.
  • focuses on the enigma of time
  • elaborates well on complex topics
  • uses metaphors and analogies adeptly
Publisher The Fabric of the Cosmo
Model n/a
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. Illustrated Brief History of Time

The Illustrated Brief History of Time was written by renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and is a landmark in the category. It includes many of his theoretical predictions from the original 1988 publishing that have since proven to be true.
  • over 200 color illustrations
  • includes vivid satellite images
  • examines the nature of black holes
Publisher Bantam
Model n/a
Weight 1.9 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

3. Warped Passages

Warped Passages is an entrancing journey that tracks discoveries from early physics to the precipice of modern scientific theory with complex, yet understandable, text. It will have your head swimming with questions by the end and prompt you into further reading.
  • intended for lay audiences
  • gives an overview of string theory
  • helps you envision extra dimensions
Publisher Harper Perennial
Model n/a
Weight 10.4 ounces
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

2. Principles of Quantum Mechanics

Principles of Quantum Mechanics is a comprehensive text with more than 700 pages, which the author uses to tackle the concepts of Dirac’s bras and kets in a head-on manner. It has an informal style that makes difficult principles and theories easy to understand.
  • requisite reading for undergrads
  • extensively detailed calculations
  • lots of supporting exercises
Publisher imusti
Model n/a
Weight 3.3 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

1. Fundamentals of Physics

Fundamentals of Physics is part of the Open Yale Course Program, which means it is written by an actual Yale professor and based on what he teaches in his class. It starts with theories laid down by early physicists and moves up to current discoveries.
  • develops a base of understanding
  • good intro for starting college
  • surprisingly engaging read
Publisher imusti
Model n/a
Weight 1.8 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

Let's Get Physical

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 word 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.

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 a few books on this list 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 BCE 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.

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 BCE. 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 Hawkings 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.

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Last updated on June 03, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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