Physics Book Recommendations (#askolo Rescued Answer)

Askolo is a question-answer site I played with for a while, but it was recently accounced that the site was going into maintenance mode so the startup in question could focus on other projects. It’s a little sad, but my own usage of the site did tail off pretty quickly. I did have a couple of answers there which I put a little thought into, so I might rescue a few of them as blog posts. Here’s one.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for high quality physics books? (I’ve been enjoying the Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics recently).

A: It’s been a little while since I sat down with a good physics text, but here are some I remember liking:

General physics:

  • Anything of Feynman’s is good, particularly his Lectures on Physics and The Character of Physical Law (absolutely one of my favorite short physics books). One exception: they’re selling a book of problem sets with his lectures now, but to be honest I didn’t care for them much.
  • Quantum Physics by Eisberg and Resnick - I remember liking this as a good general intro for quantum physics, but it doesn’t use braket notation which quite bothered me at the time.
  • I also used Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Shankar, which did provide a really good introduction to braket notation but I thought did less well with the actual physics
  • Griffiths wrote decent if unexciting texts on Electrodynamics and Quantum Physics, which are very well-regarded by many
  • Introductory Statistical Mechanics by Bowley and Sanchez - One of the most readable intros to stat-mech I’ve found
  • Introduction to Solid State Physics by Kittel - Another classic recommendation, but still an excellent solid state book. I actually bought this for myself and read it despite having no solid state class that semester, and found it fun.
  • Not a textbook, but George Gamow’s “Thirty Years That Shook Physics” is a nicely readable history of the early development of quantum physics by someone who lived through it.

AVOID “Electromagnetism” by Pollack and Stump, and “Optical Waves in Crystals” by Yariv and Yeh. I found both books intensely unpleasant.

Edit: I notice after-the-fact that there’s not a single book on classical mechanics in above list, except Feynman. I honestly just never liked any of them. Perhaps I should read Newton? :-)

Materials science, soft-matter physics and polymer physics:

  • Electronic Materials and Devices by Kasap - My second intro to solid state physics, and perhaps it was strictly more useful than Kittel: I remember the problem sets being much better. It was much more focused on the materials science and practical engineering.
  • Molecular Driving Forces by Dill and Bromberg - Starts as another stat-mech book, but flows into some generic materials science and polymer physics
  • Polymer Physics by Rubinstein and Colby - This is a truly excellent introductory text on polymer physics and rheology, and explains the weird statistical ways that polymeric materials behave in a much clearer fashion than most of the books I found.
  • Structure and Rheology of Complex Fluids by Larson - I actually really hated the experience of reading this book, but it’s the best survey I’ve found for all the weird things viscoelastic materials do. I read it mostly for the references.

Hope you find something useful in there!

Questions, comments, interesting anecdotes? Tweet to me at @ajdecon, or send me an email at ajdecon@ajdecon.org.