Nasa / Space

Books that make physics accessible to the average geek

Nicole Bremer Nash lists five physics books that sound like good reads for the average Doctor Who fan. Geekend readers, what's on your summer reading list?

I mostly ignored everything having to do with physics during my educational years. I would hear or read something that attempted to explain why black holes exist, and I automatically tuned out. But people change, and since becoming a serious Doctor Who fan, I no longer tune out. I realize that most of the physics in Doctor Who is not accurate, but you have to admit: that show does plant seeds of interest and works to make physics accessible, even to the most average viewer.

I started looking around for books that make physics accessible to a person who used to tune out. I soon realized that it's difficult to find books about physics that aren't over most peoples' heads within the first paragraph. Here are four physics books that seem like good reads and one that may be great but I won't read because I don't like being called dumb.

Dr. Rhett Allain, Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, recommends a book that sound informative and entertaining called How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel. And although it isn't a book, you might want to check out Dr. Allain's blog, .dotphysics, which he regularly updates with real-world physics problems and examples.

Equally popular to Orzel's books, Frank Close's series of books about physics, logic, and other such subjects also appeals to readers who do not have much in the way of prior physics knowledge. Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction looks like a promising starting book for those looking to get into the series.

Schaum's Solved Problems are available in a handy book titled 3000 Solved Problems in Physics by Alvin Halpern. Science communities recommend it as a means of viewing examples of the concepts that one is learning from other texts. It's a companion sort of book, but I included it so that you can go ahead and pick it up while you're at the library getting the others.

Michio Kaku seems to have found the way to interest people in physics with Physics of the Impossible. Kaku is a professor at City University of New York, and the book is a place where science fiction meets science. Kaku uses technologies and concepts that only exist in sci-fi and uses physics to explain what is truly impossible, what is possible, and what happens every day.

Though I am personally not a fan of the series (why would I use a book that insults me from its spot on the shelf?), I respect that the Dummies series does work for many people. So, while it is unlikely that I will ever read it, Physics for Dummies might be the basic place to start in a search for knowledge.

What geeky titles are on your summer reading list? What physics books would you recommend for the average Doctor Who fan? Share your lists and recommendations in the discussion.

Sign up for the Geekend newsletter

TechRepublic's Geekend newsletter, delivered each Friday, features off-topic chatter about all things geeky, including science fiction, movies, gaming, books, space, gadgets, and more. Automatically subscribe today!

About

Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...

33 comments
Hurkalee88
Hurkalee88

I would recommend: --Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed by Jim Al-Khalili --Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified by Richard Wolfson --Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman --Not Even Wrong--The Failure of String Theory... by Peter Woit --Absolutely Small: How Quantum Theory Explains Our Everyday World by Michael D. Fayer --Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen M. Barr

brent.hawthorne
brent.hawthorne

This is one of several "Cartoon" textbooks by Larry Gonick that do an excellent job of presenting material in an easy to follow form. It's not nuclear physics, but if you want to get through the basics, this will give it to you in comic book format. I've even gotten my 8 year old daughter asking to read this one. Amazon has it, as well has his great Cartoon History books.

ux2x
ux2x

"Physics for Future Presidents" takes physics issues and explains them in terms so simple even a future president can understand them - and emphasizes the impact of what the subject means on our nation. The author does a good job of being accurate and explains when and why is being "not quite accurate" e.g. when he says 1 kw = 1 hp (not quite right but close enough for a president.)

LukeWillbur
LukeWillbur

Boo! Read the books first, then write your recommendations. Don't tell me that something "looks promising", and especially don't tell me that something is a book that "sound informative". If you aren't going to read actually read a book before recommending it, at least proofread your "review". If the books soundS informative I will be fascinated to see what you think after you are finished reading it. Until then, those little yellow and black books might be something you might want to look into....

yattwood
yattwood

At the risk of reawakening a gender discussion ;-): Yes! A fellow member of the distaff half of humankind that likes 'Doctor Who' and physics! I find that reading a lot of general astronomy books helps as well, because most authors will include some basic discussion of scientific notation, physics, etc. I just went to the library recently, and got several books on black holes, a book titled 'Death From The Skies' by Philip Plait, Gino Segre's 'Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics'. And - there are some very good television programs on The Science Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and the History Channel regarding astronomy and astrophysics, although they tend to the 'Aauuugh-The-Asteroid-Gamma-Ray-Burst-Coronal-Mass-Ejection-Comet-Insert-Name-Of-Earth-Destroying-Thing-Here' genre

merrid
merrid

By Lawrence M Krauss. Great book.

tloomer
tloomer

One of my favorites is Thinking Physics by Lewis Carroll Epstein. It is full of physics problems that are intended to be solved without writing anything down. You just read the problem, think about it and see if you can figure it out. Very accessible for anyone, even a Dalek.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

by Gary Zukov. Very good read with mystical undertones.

fwbrown
fwbrown

Roger Penrose. takes some effort but does a great job explaining the development of the math to understand the universe.

davidtweedie
davidtweedie

One of the best books I have read recently is "How the Universe got its Spots" by Janna Levin.It is very well written in a down to earth, almost autobiographical style. Makes some of the concepts underlying cosmology more accessible to the reader who has only a small exposure to physics. Leaves me keen to read more.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

By Brian Greene. Never read anything that compares in terms of modern physics for the layman.

monkeypaw2u
monkeypaw2u

Michio Kaku is one of the most entertaining authors of friendly physics books. Visions an Hyperspace are two of my favorites.

cortiz
cortiz

History of time by stephen howking

Leon Tribe
Leon Tribe

A great series of books and very accessible although possibly out of print.

ScarF
ScarF

A Brief History of Time Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays The Universe in a Nutshell On The Shoulders of Giants. The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy A Briefer History of Time

Dented
Dented

I'm in the middle of Cyber War, it's very good - technically accurate although simplistic in network-speak. Very here-and-now threats to network infrastructures around the world are described, with potential fixes held forth.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've got to read that again. Maybe on my next long trip...

larry.t.sigmon
larry.t.sigmon

Cartoon Guide to Physics - Larry Gonik Understanding Physics - Isaac Asimov

HavaCigar
HavaCigar

In Search of Schroedinger's Cat, by John Gribbon, is a great book. On the other hand, Kaku is bit of a cuckoo. When I was in college I didn't much care for math and actually disliked physics. At least, that is, until I switched my major to Astrophysics.

HavaCigar
HavaCigar

There is nothing here to read, continue on to the next post - Obi Wan.

george.hickey
george.hickey

Thanks Nicole - I quite liked physics in school and am a massive sci-fi fan so it would be interesting to dip my toe back into it again and these books look like the ideal place to start... G.

k_zoar
k_zoar

This is the newer of the two books and goes over the same things covered in Th Elegant Universe with updated information. They also updated some of the visualizations. Very good read.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

doesn't some of this material suffer from being outdated?

merrid
merrid

The physics is interesting in his books... but I'm not sure it's especially accessible.

slm
slm

...brilliant physicist, terrible writer.

rgilbert2780
rgilbert2780

I also became interested in physics by watching sci fi. I am very grateful for this info. Regarding Kaku, you have to give him credit for making physics accessible and entertaining to average people. With all the recent funding cuts, we need more Kakus to make science and space exploration more important to American taxpayers. Remember, "No bucks, no Buck Rogers."

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Probably a concentration of Higgs bosons. :p They definitely should be read in order.

mike.walsh
mike.walsh

Einstein and a colleague called Leopold Infeld wrote The Evolution of Physics in about 1940. I read it in 1980. It is a very well written book, and I found it much easier to understand the Einstein's other works. In this book, he and Infeld achieve what they set out to do, they make one field of physics easy to understand.

Editor's Picks