A Reading List For Educated Lay People

For those of you who are not physicists but are curious about why modern physics is a marvelous adventure of the mind. The authors are all professional physicists. I regret that this list does not do justice to electromagnetism.
* = Contains some technical material.

Al-Khalili, Jim (2003) Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed. Weidenfield & Nicholson.

Barrow, John, and Tipler, Frank (1986) The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Oxford Univ. Press. Reading this book changed my life. * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle

Barrow, John (2002) The Constants of Nature. Vintage Books. *

-------- (2007) New Theories of Everything, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press.

Carr, Bernard, ed. (2007) Universe or Multiverse? Cambridge Univ. Press. *

Coughlan, G. D., J. E. Dodd, and B. M. Gripaios (2006) The Ideas of Particle Physics: An Introduction for Scientists, 3rd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press. * For scientists and science students who are not particle physicists.

Davies, Paul (2006) The Goldilocks Enigma. Penguin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_Jackpot

Feynman, Richard (1985) QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Princeton Univ. Press.

Ford, Kenneth W. (2005) The Quantum World. Harvard Univ. Press. More an intro to particle physics than to quantum theory.

French, A. P., and Taylor, E. F. (1978) An Introduction to Quantum Physics. W W Norton. * I include this text because I think highly of Taylor's texts on relativity (see Cosmology list) written with John Wheeler.

Ghirardi, Giancarlo (2004) Sneaking a Look at God’s Cards. Princeton Univ. Press. *

Goldstein, Martin and Inge (1993) The Refrigerator and the Universe. Harvard Univ. Press. On thermodynamics.

Greene, Brian (1999) The Elegant Universe. Vintage. A classic intro to string theory by a believer. I share the skepticism of Krauss (2005) and Smolin (2006). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elegant_Universe

-------- (2004) The Fabric of the Cosmos. Penguin: Part III. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fabric_of_the Cosmos)

Halpern, Paul (2004) The Great Beyond. Wiley. Much historical information.

Hey, Tony, and Walters, Patrick (2003) The New Quantum Universe. Cambridge Univ. Press. Much historical information. Also discusses how quantum physics has influenced technology.

Icke, Vincent (1995) The Force of Symmetry. Cambridge Univ. Press. *

Krauss, Lawrence (2005) Hiding in the Mirror. Penguin.

Lederman, L. M., and Hill, C. T. (2004) Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe. Prometheus Books.

Lindley, David (1996) Where Does the Weirdness Go? Basic Books.

Mermin, N. D. (1990) Boojums All the Way Through. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Moffat, John W. (2008) Reinventing Gravity. HarperCollins. Warning: a lot of the physics discussed in this fascinating book is not a settled affair.

Musser, George (2008) The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory. Penguin. By a Scientific American editor. This book is really a gentle introduction to much of contemporary fundamental physics. Says much that others omit, and most of what it says remains valid even if string theory proves wrong.

Oerter, Robert (2006) The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics. Plume.

Parker, Barry R. (2007) Einstein’s Brainchild. Prometheus Books.

Polkinghorne, John (1984) The Quantum World. Longman.

Rees, Martin (2000) Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe. Basic Books.

---------------- (2001) Our Cosmic Habitat. Princeton Univ. Press.

Schumm, Bruce (2004) Deep Down Things. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

Smolin, Lee (2006) The Trouble With Physics. Houghton Mifflin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trouble_With_Physics . Argues that a 40 year fascination with string theory has led theoretical physics astray.

Stenger, Victor (2000) Timeless Reality: Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes. Prometheus Books.

Veltman, Martinus (2003) Facts and Mysteries in Elementary Particle Physics. World Scientific.

Wilczek, Frank (2008) The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces. Basic Books. I am not sure why Wilczek wrote this book. But he is a wonderfully witty writer.

Zee, Anthony (2007) Fearful Symmetry, 2nd ed. Princeton Univ. Press.
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2 Responses Jul 22, 2011

Thank you so much! These are fantastic!

Wow what a long list. It is hard to find a book about physics that not over my head. I happen to have known many scientists and its easy for me to get lost in the complexities of their science. I love the philosophy of physics its fascinating ... the math ... forget it. <br />
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Thanks for providing the possibility of physics reading for the lay person, like myself. Your story is now saved in my library for future reference.