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  Books that every physicist should read

+ 11 like - 0 dislike
26600 views

Inspired by How should a physics student study mathematics? and in the same vein as Best books for mathematical background?, although in a more general fashion, I'd like to know if anyone is interested in doing a list of the books 'par excellence' for a physicist.

In spite of the frivolous nature of this post, I think it can be a valuable resource.

For example:


Course of Theoretical Physics - L.D. Landau, E.M. Lifshitz.

Mathematical Methods of Physics - Mathews, Walker. Very nice chapter on complex variables and evaluation of integrals, presenting must-know tricks to solve non-trivial problems. Also contains an introduction to groups and group representations with physical applications.

Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics - Byron and Fuller.

Topics in Algebra - I. N. Herstein. Extremely well written, introduce basic concepts in groups, rings, vector spaces, fields and linear transformations. Concepts are motivated and a nice set of problems accompany each chapter (some of them quite challenging).

Partial Differential Equations in Physics - Arnold Sommerfeld. Although a bit dated, very clear explanations. First chapter on Fourier Series is enlightening. The ratio interesting information/page is extremely large. Contains discussions on types of differential equations, integral equations, boundary value problems, special functions and eigenfunctions.


This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user Robert Smith
asked Nov 16, 2010 in Resources and References by Robert Smith (0 points) [ no revision ]
retagged May 4, 2014 by dimension10
Good but not really a question. It is hardly possible to find a "correct" answer. I wish the answers will be detailed, not just "I like it", but with explanations like - why given book contains the excellent and original exposition of a certain milestone problem in physics.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user Grisha Kirilin
Excellent, I like your idea. I will update with some comments in a few hours.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user Robert Smith
If I'm not mistaken, this would be a good candidate for the [soft-question] tag, if we would like to introduce it on this site.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user David Z
@David: I think it's very appropriate. I already added the soft-question tag.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user Robert Smith
If one wants to prepare for graduate school and a future academic job, then they should read a great deal of Franz Kafka (particularly The Trial, perhaps?).

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user wsc
Most of the books listed are more related to theoretical physics. I wonder if there is any "bible" for experimental physics?

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user pipsi
I wonder how many physicists have read all the books every physicist should read.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:35 (UCT), posted by SE-user MBN

25 Answers

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Paul Dirac - Principles of Quantum mechanics Robert Griffiths - Consistent Quantum Theory A. Zee - Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell V. Mukhanov - Physical Foundations of Cosmology

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Newman
answered Jan 9, 2012 by Newman (75 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

What is life? E. Schrodinger

The origin of life. F. Dyson

How nature works. P. Bak

Because physics is not only particle physics.

And the trilogy of Weinberg, that with the Landau course forms the holy bible of theoretical physicist.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Emanuele Luzio
answered Jun 9, 2012 by Emanuele Luzio (0 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

"Récoltes et Semailles" by Alexander Grothendieck, however it's not for a physicist, but for a scientist in general. I've read it at roughly the same time as "Surely, you are joking Mr. Feynman" and I appreciate RS much more.

I think that book is just invaluable. It is translated in English somewhere and around 25% in Russian, which I read. Though formally per Grothendieck's will all his works shouldn't be distributed, there is little trouble to get them.

I'm not so sure there are books on physics topics itself that can be recommended for everyone. It greatly depends on the interests and the level of the reader.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Yrogirg
answered Sep 1, 2012 by Yrogirg (30 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike
  • Nonlinear Optics - Robert Boyd
  • Photons-Atom Interactions - Cohen Tannoudji
  • Photons - Cohen Tannoudji
  • Classical Field Theory - A.O Barout (Dover book)
  • Problems in General Physics -I.E Irodov (Undergrad/Highschool problem sets)
  • Classical Field Thory - Jan Rezwuzki (extremely rare!, Polish academy of sciences)
  • Abstract Algebra -Charles Pinter (Dover Book)
  • Topology - Mendelson (Dover Book)
  • Foundations of Mechanics- Marsden (Very Advanced)
This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Antillar Maximus
answered Sep 1, 2012 by UnknownToSE (505 points) [ no revision ]
I +1 Abstract Algebra -Charles Pinter (Dover Book)

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user ungerade
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

The Fractal Geometry of Nature, by Benoit Mandelbrot. This is the book that launched a thousand subfields, and nothing in it requires any advanced knowledge, only a fertile imagination.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Ron Maimon
answered Sep 6, 2011 by Ron Maimon (7,720 points) [ no revision ]

Since it's you Ron, I might give it a try

+ 1 like - 0 dislike

Matter and Motion by James C. Maxwell. Dover sells it cheap.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Mike Kovarik
answered Jan 9, 2012 by Mike Kovarik (0 points) [ no revision ]
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

It's not quite as "hard" a read as some of the others on this list, but I thought that Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe offered an enlightening overview of the motivation behind and basic theoretical concepts of string theory (as well as its links to earlier physical theories) up to the late 1990s.

Ditto also on the Feynman Lectures.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Steven D.
answered Jan 9, 2012 by Steven D. (0 points) [ no revision ]
the problem with the elegant universe is that it takes large extra dimensions seriously.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Ron Maimon
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

DIVERGENT SERIES by G.H Hardy .. it is a bit old fashioned but very interesting

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Jose Javier Garcia
answered Jun 8, 2012 by Jose Javier Garcia (70 points) [ no revision ]
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

The variational principles of Mechanics, by Cornelius Lanczos 1. Some light in the often obscure treatment of variational calculus applied to classical mechanics.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Jorge
answered Jun 9, 2012 by Jorge (25 points) [ no revision ]

Yep, incredible book! Bit old though, so time for an alternative.

+ 0 like - 0 dislike

Studies in Modern Algebra - edited by A.A. Albert. (MAA)

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 15:36 (UCT), posted by SE-user Joel Rice
answered Jan 23, 2011 by Joel Rice (0 points) [ no revision ]

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