Friday, December 05, 2008

My Favorite Physics Books

The holidays are fast approaching, and nothing makes a better present than a good book on physics. Just a taste of my favorites are:

The Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonick & Art Huffman
If you know someone who thinks a superconductor is the guy directing the National Symphony Orchestra, they need this book! It's by far, the most accessible and enjoyable introduction to the world of physics there is. But don't let its cartoony style fool you; it's as thorough and in-depth as any textbook, just much funnier.

The Illustrated A Brief History of Time & The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
On its surface, advanced cosmology can seem denser than the stuff neutron stars are made of. Fortunately Steven Hawking wrote The Illustrated A Brief History of Time to effortlessly guide us through the chaos. This update to his runaway classic is a sumptuous visual tour of our strange universe of black holes, quantum mechanics and curved spacetime. His most recent book, The Universe in a Nutshell, picks up where his earlier work left off, explaining the latest on string theory and supergravity. I don't want to spoil the ending, so I'll just say that things get rather out of this world.

Classic Feynman ed by Ralph Leighton
A funny physicist? Surely I can't be serious. This collection of the irrepressible Richard Feynman's greatest hits runs the gamut from the comical to the technical and even the philosophical. Throughout this collection of his essays and anecdotes, he skillfully breaks up all the tech talk with hilarious accounts of his many adventures as the Manhattan Project's notorious "Safecracker." As a bonus, the hardcover comes with an audio CD of his funniest lecture to UCSB. "Lecture" may be the wrong word; "standup act" sounds about right.

Two-Fisted Science by Jim Ottaviani et al.
Some of the most fascinating aspects of physics are the discovery makers themselves. Two-Fisted Science is a unique comic book of short stories about the people behind the science. Spanning the ages from Galileo to Einstein to Feynman, we gain personal and political insights into the most interesting personalities in science history. Chapter three's imagined brawl between mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over the invention of calculus is so off the wall, has to be seen to be believed.

Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship by George Dyson
Does a team of America's leading nuclear scientists designing a giant interplanetary spaceship driven by exploding hydrogen bombs sound like science fiction? It really happened. During the early days of the Space Race, a lineup of former Manhattan Project scientists were certain they could reach Saturn by 1970. In a way it makes NASA's current Orion spacecraft, due to return to the moon in 12 years, sound quaint.

Let me know about any other gems I may have missed.


  1. Here's another:

    "Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics: Hollywood's Best Mistakes, Goofs and Flat-Out Destructions of the Basic Laws of the Universe"

  2. Surely there must be room in this world for a game of naming 10-stupid-physics-mistake on the order of "Name that Tune". How long *would* it take to pick out 10 mistakes in CSI (oopsie not physics) or some disaster sumpin' sumpin'? It doesn't take long...anyway this could make for a nice design in a phys class in HS.