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Old Jul 19th 2012, 11:06 PM
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Dominick Dominick is offline
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Default Recommended scientific reading

I'll present an admittedly arbitrary and personal list of books that one could read in order to acquaint oneself with present day physics although I'm immediately going to contradict myself by presenting as #1 and #2 two books who are in a way obsolete/outdated.
  1. Euclid : Elements

    I'm including this, written ca. 300BC, because it is the start of everything. It's the first cohesive and comprehensive treatise on geometry and it's excellent for getting to know mathematical reasoning and the nature and requirements of what is a mathematical proof.

    I recommend the 1956 Dover edition because it's extremely well annotated and contains a mass of context, both before and after (e.g. the very important role that the Arab world has played in the preservation and extension of Euclid's work).

  2. Isaac Newton : Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

    Another milestone that simply has to be included in this list because it is arguably the single most exceptional intellectual effort a human has ever achieved in history. The framework that Newton laid out in this work is to this day the cornerstone of most everyday life physics and engineering. Other than that he developed a plethora of mathematical techniques that are in every scientist's toolkit even now.

    Although the basic concepts that Newton used, such as a static universe and absolute time and space, are since proven wrong for the universe humans inhabit, it is still the perfect description of an Euclidean universe.

    I actually recommend a work about the Principia, rather than the Principia itself (although it's of course included completely), viz. the work that is translated, annotated and introduced by I. Bernard Cohen.

  3. Arthur I. Miller : Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity

    There are a gazillion books on relativity. I picked this one because it's the most comprehensive analysis of the actual paper (rather : papers since there were three) that Einstein wrote, viz. Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper. What's even more important is that the context in which Einstein emerged is entirely sketched. One of the myths about Einstein is that it all came out of the blue. It didn't. The book dwells on the role that the following people played ; Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, August Föppl, Heinrich Weber, Werner von Siemens, Hermann von Helmholtz, Ludwig Boltzmann, Gustave Kirchoff, Heinrich Hertz, Oliver Heaviside, Ernst Mach, Henri Poincaré, H.A. Lorentz, Marcel Grossmann, Michele Besso, Max Planck, JJ Thompson, Walter Kaufmann, Max Abraham, Paul Ehrenfest, Hermann Minkowski, Max Born, Adolf Bestelmeyer, Alfred Bucherer, Max von Laue and others.

    Other myths are debunked too but the essence of the work is best analysis of special relativity I know.

  4. Philip R. Wallace : Paradox Lost

    There are a gazillion gazillion books about quantum physics. Picking one is not an easy task and a list that covers all aspects would require a book in itself. Therefore I choose one that should appeal to those that are more interested in the philosophical implications than the often very challenging technicalities.

    Paradox Lost shows and explains that the apparent paradoxes in quantum physics are just that : apparent. There are no real paradoxes in quantum physics, just confusions between different and incompatible perspectives.

  5. Brian Greene : The Elegant Universe

    Picking a book that covers the entirety of the revolution in 20th physics is actually much easier. It's this one, no debate. Relativity, quantum physics, string theory are all explained in the easiest way possible. If one reads only one book of this list, it should be this one.

    As an anecdote, I can't be more specific about the content of the book as my copy has not been returned by the umpteenth lender. That alone proves its fascinating appeal

  6. Alan H. Guth : The Inflationary Universe

    I've included this one which is about just one aspect of cosmology, i.e. inflation theory for three reasons. It's aside from the previous one in this list probably the best written one, it gives a very fascinating insight in how and why a completely new and seemingly outlandish theory emerges and it has an excellent chapter on the Higgs field, though precisely that chapter is the most challenging one.

  7. Lawrence M. Krauss : Quintessence

    Another small contradiction because this book is actually more about the onset of 21th century physics, viz. the study of dark matter and dark energy. Neither are mystical and it's not even certain they will turn out to be exotic. The book explains why both these concepts are hypothesized and explores the many possibilities for resolution of this big elephant in the physics china shop.

  8. James Gleick : Chaos

    This is the best book about chaos theory. It introduces all its specific concepts such as fractal geometry, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, complex behaviour in simple systems and simple behaviour in complex systems and the overarching independence of chaotic behaviour from the underlying nature and specifics of the observed system.

  9. Douglas R. Hofstadter : Gödel, Escher, Bach : An Eternal Golden Braid

    This is a special book that doesn't really fit in with the rest. It's a unique, one-of-a-kind work that is very hard to describe. Whatever your background or inclination is; just read it and then read it again. You won't be disappointed.

  10. There was a tenth book but I've misplaced my list and at the moment can't recall what it was To be continued.

An extra hint about the books;

#1 and #2 obviously contain plenty of mathematics. But the level is in my opinion accessible to all.

#3 and #4 contain (very) advanced mathematics. Nevertheless either can be read while ignoring the equations and derivations.

The others do not contain any mathematics other than a very occasional mention.
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Old Jul 20th 2012, 12:00 AM
shekib82 shekib82 is offline
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Default Re: Recommended scientific reading

Thanks for the list. I have read "the elegant universe", and have in my posetion "chaos" but haven't gotten around to reading it. I will try to get the books you have mentioned; they seem interesting.
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Old Jul 20th 2012, 04:08 AM
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Suibhne Suibhne is offline
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Default Re: Recommended scientific reading

Looks good! I'll definitely have to beef up my reading list with a few of these over the next little while.
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Old Jul 20th 2012, 11:49 AM
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Michael Michael is offline
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Default Re: Recommended scientific reading

Excellent list Dominick. I'll have to track a few of them down.

#5 looks particularly interesting (Elegant Universe).

I've already read #8 and #9.
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Old Jul 20th 2012, 11:16 PM
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Dominick Dominick is offline
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Default Re: Recommended scientific reading

#10 !

10. M. Mitchell Waldrop : Complexity

Although it should presently rather be named Emergence since that is the name under which this most recent branch of science now goes. It's a spin-off from chaos theory that investigates the emergence of complexity in systems. It's a meta-science (as is chaos actually) since it applies its methodology to all systems, be it atoms, molecules, enzyms, clouds, humans, whatever.

In a generalizing nutshell, chaos has made big inroads in the question of how -in defiance of the 2nd law of thermodynamics- order arises in nature. Emergence/complexity examines why it does.
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Old Sep 30th 2013, 08:45 PM
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Dominick Dominick is offline
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Default Re: Recommended scientific reading

I'm going to add a nr. 11 to the list:
The Feynmann Physics Lectures.

If you really want to know physics this is where to go. That it dates back from 1964 is not a problem, it's actually an advantage in that it's not distracted by less established directions physics has taken since. Everything up to and including relativity and quantum physics was already well established by 1964 so it's really complete in that sense. And it's so well explained by Mr. Feynmann, probably the best physics teacher in history.

There's a caveat though. It's not for casual reading. It's after all the edited transcript of an actual two year course at Caltech, long before education got dumbed down. The mathematics are of course included and an understanding of them is a prerequisite for understanding the whole. Nerds only thus
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