Recommended Books for Students of Physics
September 15, 2015
When I began tutoring physics a few years ago, it quickly became painfully aware how bad most core texts are. Edexcel I'm looking at you! And whilst their are notable exceptions (the IB HL Physics text just released is marvelous), they are rare. In this post I'll list a few of the books I have in my little library (shown above!). As you can hopefully see, many of them aren't in fact technical so I'll divide the post in two. All of the non-technical books would be accessible to secondary aged kids and upwards.
Books for learning Physics (Technical)
For all these books I would recommend looking for a preview on Google books or see if your local library has a copy before buying. The first chapter should be enjoyable to read. And as one of my old lecturers used to say - there's plenty more books to look at whilst you're there!
Roger Muncaster, A level Physics, Fourth Edition
Prequisite Knowledge : iGCSE Higher Mathematics (GCSE including basic differentiation)
Written in 1993 this is perhaps my favourite book for tutoring. Not only is the book (and it's associated smaller volumes such as Nuclear physics) well written, well laid out and possessing an enviable amount of detail - it has questions! Thousands of them - all with answers. Combined with the mathematics that is laid out in a good clean way throughout, students using this text are well prepared for physics at university. I would say this is an essential reference for anyone starting AS Physics - Use this book and you will build a very strong foundation for the future.
Young and Freedman, University Physics
Prerequisite Knowledge : Calculus (AS Mathematics)
Despite the name, sections of this book can make a good extension for those students who wish to push beyond topics in A level. Want to learn about more complex circuits than potential dividers? A more indepth description of particle physics and cosmology? Even mechanics, this book covers lots (and it should at over 1700 pages!). Even better this is a standard text for most 1st year Physics students at university so you're getting the benefit of it before you even begin! As in Muncaster the text is dense with questions to test your understanding. Whilst there are parts which are undoubtedly harder, many sections I've found to be excellent for learning at A level.
Books for getting excited about Physics (Non-Technical)
These are fun (hopefully!) books for students of all ages. Very little (if any!) mathematics.
Charles Petzold, CODE - The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
This book is amazing. I mean really. It starts from describing two kids trying to talk across a street with flashlights all the way through to describing how a computer processor works! It's written in a relaxed friendly style with pictures throughout. The description of circuits alone is exceedingly helpful for GCSE students in my experience.
James Gleick, Chaos
Half history, half description. Chaos is a description of the simple physics which causes unpredictability in systems such as weather. It's a fascinating read. A level students who understand the book would be recommended to have a look at Nonlinear Dynamics And Chaos: With Applications To Physics, Biology, Chemistry, And Engineering (Studies in Nonlinearity) by Steven Strogatz.
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow
Learning the fallibility of the human mind and how we make choices. If there was a book that everyone should read, this would be it. For students of science, or indeed politics, this will offer an insight into the mistakes we all make and hopefully signpost them to prevent you unconsciously making them in future!
J.P. McEvoy, Quantum Theory - A Graphic Guide
A comic book describing the history and some theory of quantum theory. This is an easy to read introduction to what quantum physics is, why it's interesting and why it's important! Very accessible to all ages and hopefully very interesting.
Randell Munroe, What if?
Randell Munrow, the creator the famous internet comic XKCD has been answering questions on his blog about hypothetical science questions from the general public. This book is a collection of most of them along with many new ones. It's a fun read with questions such as "what would happen if a baseball travelled at 90% the speed of light?", the book is entertaining as well as educational (more or less).
Richard P. Feynman, Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman!
Undeniably fascinating, this book offers a collection of short stories from a famous American physicist of the 20th Century. Generally famous for his lectures (The Feynman lectures available online!) and as well as a film describing his involvement in the Challenger disaster investigation (The Challenger) the books gives a glimpse into what might one of the more interesting lives a physicist has accomplished! Well worth a read.
There are so many more books I could mention but the best thing I could advise would be to go to your local library. Go now! And enjoy reading. Do you have physics texts you would recommend?
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