Three physics books for the lay reader
Posted by Melissa on August 8, 2010
Here’s an interesting question asked of faculty from a variety of fields: What are three books that you feel are most helpful/interesting for lay readers who want to learn more about your field?
My answer comes with two caveats.
1) When I read for pleasure, I rarely read popular science books. I either read novels or non-fiction books on other topics. Since I will only recommend books I’ve read, I have a limited list from which to choose.
2) As with media coverage in general, it seems that the majority of physics books for a popular audience focus on particle physics, string theory, or astrophysics. As a condensed matter experimentalist, these books don’t reflect my interests well. Hence my first two books walk the line between materials science and physics.
Three recommended books about physics for lay readers:
- The New Science of Strong Materials or Why You Don’t Fall through the Floor by J. E. Gordon. Although dated (the original was published in 1976), this is an extremely well written and engaging introduction to the structure and properties of materials.
- The Substance of Civilization: Materials and Human History from the Stone Age to the Age of Silicon by Stephen L Sass. A book that any student of the liberal arts will appreciate because it captures the interplay of materials science, society, and technology throughout history.
- Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science by David Lindley. An excellent account of the personalities and the science of the quantum revolution.
As a bonus, I’d also recommend the novel Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman.
What would your three books be?