The 10 Best Physics Textbooks
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in May of 2016. With the cost of college tuition reaching astronomical levels, any student would be grateful to receive one of these physics textbooks. And to show that you don't have to be enrolled anywhere to learn, we've included some resources for the at-home science enthusiast. There's something here for every budget and every level of knowledge, from high schoolers to graduate students. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 17, 2020:
We ensured every edition was completely up to date and maintained the balance between straightforward tomes geared toward the student with little prior knowledge, like Conceptual Physics, No Bulls--t Guide To Math And Physics, and Basic Physics and selections that focus on deeper concepts, like Introduction To Quantum Mechanics and Modern Classical Physics.
And while Physics For Scientists And Engineers is a rigorous text that can be beneficial to some, the way it's written can leave others frustrated and scratching their heads due to thin explanations, typos, and difficult problem sets that cover concepts that haven't been taught. We decided to replace it with College Physics: A Strategic Approach. This volume keeps mixed-major students in mind and features examples, explanations, and problems that use real data from research to show physics at work in relatable situations. This one is ideal for readers who want to see how physics plays a part in the world around them.
If you're looking for additional, non-textbook selections to help boost your knowledge, consider checking out our list of physics books as well.
July 11, 2019:
As with any textbook that delves deeply into a complicated subject, the clarity of the voice in which it's written is paramount. Some of the books on our list may seem too straightforward and simplistic if you have any background in physics, however, so the depth at which each entry dives was also of major concern. The question becomes how one rates an aspect of a textbook that is partially dependent on the reader's foreknowledge of the field. For this we wanted to strike as nice of a balance as possible without ending up with a bland list of middle-of-the-road options.
For example, our previous number one pick earned its place largely for its lack of confusing jargon and plain, but entertaining, writing style. It remains an excellent choice for newer students, but those with a bit of background or a deep understanding of trigonometry might find it less useful. Our new number one entry, the 12th edition of Conceptual Physics, also aims to make its lessons easy for most students to understand, but it does so with real-world examples that are backed up by thorough mathematical explanation. The result is a text that's easy to read, comprehensive in its approach, and applicable to a wide range of students.
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
RealCalc Plus Extremely helpful for physics students, RealCalc Plus looks and operates like a handheld calculator. It has all the standard scientific functions plus fractions, degrees, minutes, seconds, history, memories, customizable unit conversions, and constants. It also has unit conversions for distance, area, volume, mass, speed, time, force, pressure, energy, and more. You can choose from several display styles and formats, and there is comprehensive help included if you get stuck. quarticsoftware.com
Are Physics Textbooks Only For Students?
Contrary to popular belief, physics textbooks are not simply for academics.
Physics is the study of forces that govern much of the known universe. Concepts of physics directly influence every aspect of life, so it is no wonder the number of people choosing to study the topic is on the rise. Physics textbooks provide an easy way for students of all ages to learn about these concepts.
Contrary to popular belief, physics textbooks are not simply for academics. While many are written to cater to institutions of higher learning, a self-learner stands to benefit from them, as well. Physics textbooks tend to be broken down into succinct and easy-to-follow chapters. The study of physics textbooks also tends to take place in order, meaning that they will not delve into the mind-boggling realm of spinning tops before they explain Newton's Laws.
Any prerequisites for understanding concepts are generally covered in the first few chapters of a textbook, and can help bring any learner up to speed with some of the most basic concepts of physics. It is also important for the reader to have a strong grasp over basic algebra and trigonometry, as well as concepts like the Pythagorean theorem.
Textbooks are also made to be read. While it can seem like an obvious notion, the technical literature put out by the physics community is difficult to follow by most standards. Textbook manufacturers take it upon themselves to digest this information and rewrite it in ways that make the concepts accessible to all who read them.
What Types Of Topics Do Physics Textbooks Cover?
The ultimate goal of physics is to better understand physical reality. To do this, physicists have formulated a series of fundamental laws and theories used to describe how forces in reality function. From the first time a physics textbook is opened, some basic principles will need to be covered and understood.
This raised the idea that mass and energy are the same physical entity, and changed the field of physics forever.
While physics is evolving every day, the understanding we have of the basic theories of physics came from one man in the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton. Newton's first law of motion states that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an outside force. Likewise an object in motion remains in motion unless acted on by an outside force. His second law of motion states that acceleration occurs when a force acts upon a mass. The greater the mass of the object, the more force it will require to move. Newton's third law famously states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Newton also developed a law of gravity, which explained the attractive force between a pair of masses. This was an incomplete law, however. A more comprehensive understanding of gravitational forces came with Einstein's most notable equation, E=mc². This theory of relativity shows that the increased mass of a body comes from the kinetic energy of that body, divided by the speed of light squared. This raised the idea that mass and energy are the same physical entity, and changed the field of physics forever. These make up some of the most basic concepts that every physics textbook will touch on.
Noteworthy Fields Of Physics
The public interest about the topic of physics has piqued in the modern era. While physics as a whole is the study of the nature and properties of matter and energy, there are a vast number of different fields covering various aspects of physics.
Two entangled particles may have miles put between them, but if one begins an action, the other begins a similar action near-instantaneously.
Particle physics is one such field that has gained popularity recently. This is largely due to a number of new discoveries being made, such as the Higgs-boson particle. In short, the Higgs-boson particle is responsible for giving the universe its mass. The Higgs field was the last missing piece in the Standard Model of particle physics. The discovery of the Higgs-boson particle marked a huge milestone in the human understanding of nature, and allows physics to move towards new discoveries with ease.
Quantum physics is another interesting area that deals with the fundamental theory of nature on the smallest scale. Fro example, one principle of quantum physics is that everything in the universe is made up of particles, while simultaneously being made up of waves. For instance, a photon is considered to be a particle of light. In reality, it is not a particle alone, but an excitement occurring in a quantum field of energy. It is easy to isolate small particles like photons or electrons in conversation, but in their natural state, they exist in the inseparable particle-wave state.
Another fascinating idea stemming from quantum physics is the idea of quantum entanglement. In quantum physics, any particles which are entangled remain connected even after they separate. Actions performed on one of these particles will affect the other entangled particle. Two entangled particles may have miles put between them, but if one begins an action, the other begins a similar action near-instantaneously. While Schrodinger was the first to use the term entanglement, Albert Einstein famously called it spooky action at a distance.