5 Great Books to Help You Understand Physics

Updated: May 21, 2019

Sometimes a textbook just isn’t enough to help you grasp the most important concepts in physics. Here are some engaging books written by great thinkers to give you a deep understanding of A-level and undergraduate physics concepts.

1. The ABC of Relativity, Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell is best known as a philosopher, but he was an all-round genius who had such a good grasp on relativity that he was able to write this excellent guide to the topic. Perhaps not being a physicist helped him to communicate with a non-expert physics audience. Either way, this book gets the balance just right between style and substance, so that a thorough understanding of special relativity is accessible, as well as a basic introduction to general relativity.

2. The Theoretical Minimum, Leonard Susskind

As one of the world’s premier physicists, Susskind has distilled his lecture courses to provide a gateway to the main topics of a university physics degree: classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, classical fields, and relativity. Susskind has not shied away from the appropriate level of maths, meaning you can really get your teeth into these topics in a productive way.

3. The Emperor’s New Mind, Roger Penrose

This book is primarily a vehicle for Penrose’s (very contentious) philosophy of mind, but nestled within is the most concise encapsulation of the history of physics I’ve ever come across. Starting with the Greeks, and progressing chronologically through Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein, Penrose shows where we got our current physics from. This can be really helpful for making concepts and equations feel less abstract, and helping you remember them.

4. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking

From the most famous physicist of the last 50 years, this book is both an introduction to cosmology, and also a cutting-edge (for it’s time) piece of research. Like all the best science writing, A Brief History of Time is layered enough to be accessible enough to causal readers, and yet still challenging for professional physicists. Essential reading for any student interested in astrophysics.

5. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard Feynman

Never bettered, this is the ultimate guide to physics for anyone with the patience to work through it. The full undergraduate course given by one of the greatest ever physics communicators (who also happened to be a great physicist- a rare combination), there is simply no source as clear and comprehensive for undergraduate physicists.

These are just a handful of the books which have aided in the development of my physics understanding. There are hundreds of great physics books out there, waiting to be discovered. Using the books above as a starting point, read widely and carefully. I would always recommend avoiding any physics book which doesn’t include equations, as physics concepts cannot be understood properly without maths. That being said, the most important thing is to read something you enjoy, and that way physics won’t feel like a chore.

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