My Photo


  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

    "Explains physics to the layperson and specialist alike with abundant historical and cultural references."
    -- Exploratorium ("10 Cool Sites")

    "... polished and humorous..."
    -- Physics World

    "Takes 1 part pop culture, 1 part science, and mixes vigorously with a shakerful of passion."
    -- Typepad (Featured Blog)

    "In this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations."
    -- Fast Company ("The Top 10 Websites You've Never Heard Of")
Blog powered by Typepad
Bookmark and Share

« making the break | Main | physics politico »


I just wanted to say it's awesome that you put Flatland on the list. I bought that book for one dollar at Border's and I couldn't have spent my money better. I don't know if it was on the list because I scanned the last half of it, but if it's not I think The God Particle by Dr. Richard Feynman was an excellent read, and as far as being a narrative goes it offers some great insight into the scientific community and the prejudices betwixt theoretical and experimental physicists (although I'm sure the two camps will get along great from now until the LHC fires up, then it'll be physics as usual). I mean I hate to be pessimistic but my money's on no Higg's field and a lot of really PO'ed theoretical physicists.

I like the list, especially Copenhagen. I'd also add Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (a fantastic fiction book that I've read many times) and Hyperspace by Michio Kaku--it might be a little out dated, but it was the book that got me interested in physics when I was in middle school. Also, any of Feynman's other books, maybe even you could give her his Lectures on Physics, a must-have for any budding physicist.
And of course, the Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy is a must-have for any nerd.

I like the list, especially Copenhagen. I'd also add Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (a fantastic fiction book that I've read many times) and Hyperspace by Michio Kaku--it might be a little out dated, but it was the book that got me interested in physics when I was in middle school. Also, any of Feynman's other books, maybe even you could give her his Lectures on Physics, a must-have for any budding physicist.
And of course, the Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy is a must-have for any nerd.

I've read 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman' and enjoyed it very much.
But how is it a science book???

Almost anything by John Varley or David Gerrold.

What about Dr Karl? If it is for a young adult then I would recommend Dr Karl.

Aside from all the good suggestions already made here and over at Cosmic Variance (including the comments on Sean's list), a few more I would add are:

The Life it Brings, Jeremy Bernstein
The Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder
First Light, Richard Preston
The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Judson
The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich

When I was teaching this stuff, a student gave me a collection of Isaac Azimov's essays on physics. I turned immediately to the section on quantum mechanics--my specialty--and found it dull and uninspiring. But Azimov's essay on "Air" I couldn't put down--what an achievement--to make air breath-takingly exciting. I also loved Bodanis's E = MC2, especially the part about "equals".

The Australian mind-matter philosophy David Chalmers once sent out a call for the best book on quantum mechanics for the layman. I recommended "Ghost in the Atom" edited by Paul Davies which won. I would also recommend Heinz Pagels's " Cosmic Code" and my own (somewhat more advanced) "Quantum Reality". Since "Neuromancer" was included in the list (a wonderful book) I would like to nominate Olaf Stapledon's "Starmaker" as an equally inspiring sci-fi drama and Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" for its noble humor in the face of catastrophe.

A few more notable books from my shelf:
"Quantum Profiles" Jeremy Bernstein
"Pihkal" Ann and Sasha Shulgin
"QED" Richard Feynman
"Deep Down Things" David Shramm
"Dreams of Reason" Heinz Pagels
"Pilgrim At Tinker's Creek" Annie Dillard
"Just Six Numbers" Martin Rees
"University Dictionary of Mammals of the World" Maurice Burton, ed
"Cosmic Canticle" Ernesto Cardenal
and the one book I return to most often:
"Not Man Apart" Poetry by Robinson Jeffers, Big Sur photos by Ansel Adams

Being a fish biologist, I would love to see these important 'soft' science books thrown in the mix:

Song of the Dodo - Daniel Quammen
Silent Spring - Rachel Carson
Fish, An Enthusiast's Guide - Peter Moyle
A Sand County Almanac - Aldo Leopald

I would add two by Matt Ridley:

The Red Queen (my favorite)
Genome (most accessible)

Since you have some fiction on the list, I'd add Ringworld - Larry Niven

Just one of my pet peeves. The book for which C. Darwin became (in)famous is entitled "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection."

I would add Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces" to the list, and Gell-Mann's "Eightfold Way" to the list.

I would add to the list
Measuring the Universe by Kitty Ferguson,
Moths and Men by Judith Hooper,
Collapse by Jared Diamond,
The Earth by Richard Forte,
Big Bang by Simon Singh,
Unknown Quantity by John Derbyshire,
Journey from the Centre of the Earth by Jack Zirker,
Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond,
Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll,
The Particle Odyssey Frank Close
The Scientists by John Gribbin

The Missing Chums, Franklin W. Dixon

I actually thought "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker was better than "Language Instinct." That was actually the book that changed my life and finally opened my eyes to the wonders of evolution. And if "Neuromancer" is on there, I'd also add "Ender's Game."

Have you actually read Number 52?

Did you notice that the author (Kakalios) makes a big howling mistake in chapter 1 already, getting a completely wrong answer?
And then goes on to use this wrong result as an axiom for chapter 2? getting a wrong result there too. And so on?

I wrote to him - giving him the correct chapter 1 answer too - which (unfortunately?) destroys his chapter 2 argument. Although he acknowledges his mistake in his emails, he has consistently omitted to document it on his Errata pages. So we have a popular textbook out there which is wrong, is known by the author to be wrong, but which the author refuses to correct.

Unethical IMHO.

Dear Stu: A popular science book is not a textbook. Period. If Kakalios has privately acknowledged the error in his correspondence with you, then you've done your sacred "duty" to uphold the purity of science, and now it's out of your hands. Get over it and move on. It's up to the author and his publisher when it comes to correcting errata, either on Websites or, say, in a subsequent edition.

You are right of course, Jennifer, it's their task to keep the Errata page up to date. Certainly, for all the books I've written, I've regarded it as my duty to do so. YMMV :-)

I've added my those I've read and some other recommendations on my blog.

A couple of suggestions
1. Which of these books do you own but have yet to read?
2. What are the 'must read' since-related novels?

A gifted grand-daughter.. youngish? I really liked Guy Murchy's _Music of the Spheres_ when I was a teenager... it's still on my shelf, actually. Volume 1 is on the macroscopic, Vol 2 the microscopic. Some of the info is dated now (of course) but it's a nice romping intro through physical science.

Two books that I enjoyed and belong here are: Lawrence and Oppenheimer by Nuel Pharr Davis; and Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis.


I've read about half your list, but it does not include some of my faves:

The structure of scientific revolutions - T.S. Kuhn - Classic, still relevant, my #1 desert island book... I take it on long flights so I can read it twice more.
The mind's I - various (Ed. Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel C. Dennett) - classic essays in psychology and cognitive science, with some fiction thrown in.
Labyrinths - Borges - what can be said?
Annals of the former world - John McPhee - Elegaic, rigorous, recipient of a well deserved Pulitzer!
Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems - Galileo - I've never understood why people don't actually read it, it's terrif!
The Mind of a Mnemonist - Aleksandr R. Luria - again with the memory and perception, this time in the form of a case history.

Anyhow, nice idea, I look forward to the resulting list.

OK, half was an exaggeration. More like a quarter:

2. *The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
4. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
15. *A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
23. *Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer
24. Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
27. *Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
47. *This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
50. *Pythagorus' Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould
70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson

So glad anything by David Lindley was on your list - he's a wonderful writer.

The two books that got me interested in quantum mechanics and particle physics at a pretty tender age were The Cosmic Code and Perfect Symmetry by the late Heinz Pagels. I really enjoyed Feynman's QED - didn't see that on the list.

Yay, Blake and others! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who can't finish Godel Escher Bach.

I came over from Cosmic Variance which has many excellent suggestions, some may even be mine;

Feynman - QED and Character of Physical Law.
Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen - What Does A Martian Look Like?
Them and Terry Pratchett - Science of Diskworld.
Asimov's Lucky Starr series for a tour of the solar system.
K. Mendelssohn - The Quest for Absolute Zero
The book that made me want to be a physicist was The Nature of Matter by Otto Frisch.
The original - Relativity by Einstein hasn't been bettered.
The Ancestors Tale is my favourite of Dawkins.
The Music of the Primes.
The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved - Mario Livio.
Mathematics and the Imagination - Kastner and Newman.
Mathenauts - Rudy Rucker.
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture - Apostolos Doxiadis. Twistor - John Cramer.
And finaly, the book that has it all;
Decipher - Stel Pavlou.

Of those on your list, I've read 11, 18, 25, 27(?), 35, 51, 56, 57 and 72.

Of others' picks, I'd second;

The Elegant Universe, Hyperspace, How Long is a Piece of String?, Cosmos, The Ascent of Man

Those I need to read;

Guns Germs and Steel, The Path to Reality, The Physics of the Buffyverse (if Obama wins there'll be more firefly!),

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.