Given below is a list of books and other material that I think will be
helpful in understanding the concepts presented in the class. This
list will grow as I come across new things - so stay tuned! If you
find a reference that you think belongs here, please let me know.
- Nathan Spielberg and Bryon D. Anderson,
Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe, 2nd ed.
(New York: Wiley, 1995).
Recommended text for the class. A good historical perspective on
physics with a bit more detail than usual.
Clifford M. Will,
Was Einstein Right, 2nd ed.
(New York: BasicBooks, 1993).
Recommended text for the class.
The name makes you think it was written by another wild-eyed
loon, but this is the clearest description of what general
relativity is and is not and how it is tested that I have ever
Isaac Asimov, The History of Physics
(New York: Walker, 1984).
Yes, it's that Asimov, but there aren't any robots in
this one. There's not much history either. There are
some very nice, counter-intuitive examples of simple mechanics
though and lots of good explanations.
(350 BCE). Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye
The book that started it all. Full text is available online:
Albert Einstein and the Frontiers of Physics,
(New York: Oxford Press, 1996).
Not just a biography of Einstein, but also a good introduction
to the concepts of relativity. Although this book was written
for Young Adults, it is one of the best and most concise summaries
of our friend Albert that I have found.
Louis A. Bloomfield,
How Things Work, 2nd ed.
(New York: Wiley, 2001).
Introductory physics level explanations of how all kinds of
things work: frisbees, Xerox machines, etc., etc.
This book is often the basis for the "Working Knowledge" column
in Scientific American.
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers
(New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991).
This is a fun book to read. It puts many of the topics that we
discuss into historical and cultural perspective. It also contains
plenty of biographical information about our heros.
A Short History of Nearly Everything
(New York: Broadway Books, 2003).
From the Introduction...
"Suddenly I had a powerful, uncharacteristic urge to know
something about these matters and to understand how people
figured them out".
More-or-less sums up this course, doesn't it? Very worthwhile
Robert Crease and Charles Mann,
The Second Creation
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1996).
Recommended text for the second semester of this class.
A great historical introduction to modern physics, including
some very nice explanations of tricky topics.
Lewis Carroll Epstein,
Thinking Physics, 2nd ed.
(San Francisco: Insight Press, 1998).
If you really want to test your understanding of basic physics
concepts this is the book for you. It's a collection of
questions (with answers) about why things work the way they
do. Answer all the questions and "you will have learned..."
Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
Dialogue Concerning Two New Sciences
James Gleick, Isaac Newton
(New York: Vintage, 2003).
The best concise biography of Newton available.
Skips over a few things - but it's so beautifully written that you
Marcelo Gleiser, The Dancing Universe
(Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2005).
An excellent, and very readable, overview of many of the topics
emphasized in this course. Gleiser does a great job putting the
concepts he discusses in historical and societal context.
Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe
(New York: Vintage, 2000).
Support impoverished Columbia faculty and buy this book!
Even if you don't care about augmenting the income of your
professors, this is still one of the best intuitive
introductions to special and general relativity that I have
found. If you're struggling to understand these
concepts, then The Elegant Universe is the place to go.
Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos
(New York: Vintage, 2005).
Brian Greene's second book is also very readable. In it he
concentrates more on quantum mechanics than in The Elegant
John Gribbin, The Scientists
(New York: Random House, 2002).
Lots of interesting information about nearly all of the people
we discuss in class. This book also has some nice, non-technical
descriptions of the concepts we cover (plus many more).
G. Hahner and N. Spencer, "Rubbing and Scrubbing"
Physics Today vol.51 no.9, p. 22 (Sep. 1998).
A very nice introduction to the history of friction and what
work is going on today
David Halliday, Robert Resnick and Jearl Walker,
Fundamentals of Physics, Vol 2, 6th ed.
(New York: Wiley, 2001).
This is probably the standard text for Intro Physics for
scientists and engineers. It is more mathematical (uses
calculus) than the other texts I list. But it's a good place to
go to get a firmer understanding of complicated concepts.
Physics: Concepts and Connections, 2nd ed.
(Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999).
Has nice discussions of theories accepted before our current
ones. Also lots of interesting quotes from famous people about
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered
the Beauty and Terror of Science,
A fascinating overview of European science in the 18th century.
Lawrence M. Krauss, Fear of Physics
(New York: BasicBooks, 1993).
An excellent guide on how to think about physics like a
physicist (i.e. your professor).
Krauss is one of the best around at explaining the complexities
of modern physics in a correct, yet understandable way.
Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek
(New York: Harper Perennial, 1996).
Not quite as geeky as it sounds. In fact, it's a series of
object lessons in critical and multi-dimensional thinking -
something sadly lacking in current scientific policy.
Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle
(London: Chato & Windus, 1970).
A very nice summary of the Greek scientific thought, which
formed the basis of Western understanding of nature for two
millennia. It has an especially good section on Aristotle.
G.E.R. Lloyd, Greek Science after Aristotle
(London: Chato & Windus, 1973).
Ptolemy's contributions are discussed in detail here.
David Macaulay, The New Way Things Work
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998).
A great book if you ever wondered how a lock or a window shade
(or basically anything else) works. Less physics than
Bloomfield, but more pictures.
Robert H. March, Physics for Poets, 4th ed.
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996).
A good historical perspective on physics.
Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne and John
A. Wheeler, Gravitation
(San Francisco: W.H.Freeman, 1973)
This is a graduate level text in general relativity, however,
it is also the classic
in the field. If you want to get a look at the math behind
general relativity, this is a good place to start.
Sir Isaac Newton,
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
Vern J. Ostdiek and Donald J. Bord,
Inquiry into Physics, 4th ed.
(Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2000).
Nice explanations of basic formulas and example problems.
Check the "Suggested Readings"
sections at the end of each chapter.
Heinz R. Pagels, The Cosmic Code,
(New York: Bantam, 1982).
Good discussions of some of the weirder aspects of quantum
mechanics and a nice, though now dated, introduction to
John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy
(New York: Vintage Books, 1990).
Lots of practical examples of probability and statistics.
John Allen Paulos,
A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper
(New York: Anchor Books, 1995).
A catalog of common mathematical blunders made in the media
that bias our understanding of important (and not-so-important)
issues. Amusing reading about a depressing situation.
Perpetual Motion Page
A web site with examples of perpetual motion machines and
explanations of why they don't work.
Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986).
This is the best historical introduction to modern physics that
I have read. I would suggest waiting until the summer to read
it, however, since it's about one million pages long and you
will undoubtedly neglect all of your other classes to read it.
Emilio Segre, From X-rays to Quarks
(New York: W. H. Freeman, 1980).
Biographical sketches of some of the founders of modern physics
by a man who knew many of them and who is a Nobel laureate
himself. This book has a good mix of personal and technical
Morris H. Shamos, Great Experiments in Physics
(New York: Holt, 1959).
A very nice reference describing many of the experiments we
discuss in this class with reproductions of the original
papers and comments on them.
Dava Sobel, Galileo's Daughter
(New York: Penguin, 1999).
An extremely good biography of Galileo.
Dava Sobel, Longitude
(New York: Penguin, 1996).
Some mention of Galilean relativity here.
Also, lots of fun to read.
Edwin F. Taylor and John A. Wheeler,
(New York: W.H.Freeman, 1992)
A good place to look for a detailed explanation of special
relativity and its consequences without a lot of mathematics.
Dick Teresi, Lost Discoveries
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002).
The most complete discussion of (ancient) non-European
contributions to science that I've found. It covers everyone
from Australian Aborigines to Zoroastrians - so chances are
high that you'll find something about your favorite group
Big Bang, Black Holes, No Math
under development by Prof. Toback.
This is a very nice introduction, aimed at non-scientists,
to some of the fascinating issues in
cosmology that we only touch on briefly. If you're interested in
the Big Bang, the Expanding Universe, Dark Matter and Energy, etc.
this is a great place to start.
Acid Tongues and Tranquil Dreamers
(New York: Morrow, 2001)
Eight short pieces on famous rivalries in science.
Newton vs. Leibniz is one of them.
Edison vs. Tesla is another.
Richard Wolfson, Simply Einstein
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003)
Highly recommended by previous students.
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Physics in Other Media
The physics we discuss in class shows up in all kinds of places. A few
are listed below. If you spot something you think would be appropriate
to include here, please let Prof. Evans know.
- The Newtonian
- NOVA Program on
The Elegant Universe
by Brian Greene
- CERN public web site
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