Some great books

January 24, 2021 James L

Book recommendations for a-level physics students with an eye to university.

I often get asked for book recommendations, especially for physics/maths students. 

  • structures - j.e. gordon

    Perhaps the best thing about Gordon’s writing is he’s one of those exhilarating thinkers who doesn’t hew to any preconceived boundaries of his science. In this book you get plenty of talk on walls and bridges, but he also does feathers:

    I’m inclined to think that the main advantage of feathers to an animal may be structural. Anybody who has flown model aeroplanes knows, to their cost, how vulnerable any small flying machine must be to accidental damage from things like trees and bushes, or even from careless handling. Many birds fly constantly in and out of trees and hedges and other obstacles. Indeed they use such cover as a refuge for their enemies. For most birds the loss of a reasonable number of feathers is not a very serious matter. Besides it is better to leave the cat with a mouthful of feathers than to be eaten.

    I genuinely didn’t know i was so interested in structural engineering until Gordon let me see that everything is a structure. Gordon has another book on materials science, if that sounds a little dry trust me, he’s a wonderful writer who really drives home why these things matter! This book is a real find. First published in 1978 and still pulling in 5 star reviews all over the place (ok, Amazon).
  • the new science of strong materials - j.e. gordon

    I may be playing favourites having two of Gordon’s books on the list but they are genuinely great. A bit like Gleick’s book on chaos this bok is exciting because it’s describing a genuinely new discovery of how nature works; why glass is brittle, why rubber is tough, and what exactly these words mean. Much like his book of structures and engineering this book gives you a new way to look at the world.
  • the elegant universe - brian greene

    One of my formative-years reads, I read this while preparing for my a-levels. Brian Greene introduces special relativity and quantum mechanics before delving into string theory. He writes very clearly indeed. Highly recommended.
  • quantum physics - rae

    A rare book that sits on the border of pop-science and textbooks. Alistair Rae’s book has been in print for a long time and does what very few QM books manage to do: it tells you about the science, plainly, clearly and without trying to confuse you. A truly rare find. Ages 17 and over I’d say.
  • chaos - james gleick

    Gleick book practically radiates energy, he’s writing about the discovery of a new field of science and the excitement is palpable.
  • the emperor’s new mind - roger penrose

    Roger Penrose has a habit of writing multi-hundred-page books that squeeze seemingly all human thought in between their covers (see The Road To Reality), this is Penrose’s first. He covers the foundations of computer science, mathematics and physics, his target is the big question: how can bulk physical matter actually think? This book is a challenge but worth it.
  • qed - richard feynman

    I don’t know of another book like this. Acknowledged master communicator of physics and nobel laureate Richard Feynman does a truly delightful job here. A branch of physics most would write off as impossibly mathematical gets broken down into several digestable chapters. What’s truly remarkable is he doesn’t merely leave you with a intuitive sense of the physics, he shows you how to do it using pictures! It’s a favourite among my students if we’re looking for a book to read in class. GCSE and above.
  • the design and engineering of curiosity - emily lakdawalla

    About a year ago a thought popped into my head, “I wonder if there’s a book that describes in detail exactly how every part of the Mars rover works”. There is, it’s this one. Lakdawalla’s research is staggeringly detailed on both the engineering side but also the procedural side. What does it really take to land a $1B robot on a distant planet. Her description of the landing stage alone is both forensically detailed and utterly terrifying. I’ve found this a fantastic book to read with students because of the sheer number of questions it throws up, not just in physics but biology and chemistry too. Practically every page could be it’s own topic for a lesson. Best for strong GCSE students and above.
  • ignition - john d. clark

    Ok the one I haven’t read yet. The reviews are glowing. I’ll put up a post about this one as soon as I get through it.


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