[Physics FAQ] - [Copyright]

Various small updates over the years.
Updated 1994–1997 by SIC, PEG.
Original by Vijay Fafat.

A Physics Book List: Recommendations from the Internet

This article is a compilation of books recommended by sci.physics participants as the "standard" or "classic" texts on a wide variety of topics of general interest to physicists and physics students.  As a guide to finding the right book for you, many of the comments from the contributors have been retained.

All entries here are incomplete, and many good books are not yet listed.  Please feel free to contribute to this project by contacting the editor.  When you submit a book, please try to keep your note short like the entries already on this page, so that I can easily copy/paste them in.

Details such as publisher, date, and ISBN numbers below are far and few between.  This is partly because we are too lazy to type them in, but also because these things can change with new editions and different countries (slightly better excuse).  If you want to know more, do a search at one of the internet book shops; a comparison of several sites can be had at booksprice.com.

If you are looking for a book that is out of print, try:

Subject Index

General Physics (so even mathematicians can understand it!)

  1. M.S. Longair: Theoretical concepts in physics, 1986.
    An alternative view of theoretical reasoning in physics for final-year undergrads.

  2. Arnold Sommerfeld: Lectures on Theoretical Physics
    Sommerfeld is God for mathematical physics.

  3. Richard Feynman: The Feynman lectures on Physics (3 vols)
    Highly recommended texts compiled from the undergraduate lecture course given by Feynman.

  4. Jearle Walker: The Flying Circus of Physics

  5. There is the entire Landau and Lifshitz series.  They have volumes on classical mechanics, classical field theory, E&M, QM, QFT, statistical physics, and more.  Very good series that spans the entire graduate-level curriculum.

  6. The New Physics edited by Paul Davies.
    This is one big book, and it takes time to look through topics as diverse as general relativity, astrophysics, particle theory, quantum mechanics, chaos and nonlinearity, low-temperature physics, and phase transitions.  Nevertheless, this is an excellent book of recent (1989) physics articles, written by several physicists/astrophysicists.

  7. Richard Feynman: The Character of Physical Law
    In his unique no-nonsense style, Feynman lectures on what physics is all about.  Down-to-Earth examples keep him from straying into the kind of metaphysics of which he is often critical.

  8. David Mermin: Boojums all the way through: Communicating science in prosaic language

  9. Frank Wilczek and Betsy Devine: Longing for the Harmonies: Themes and variations from modern physics

  10. Greg Egan: Permutation City
    This is a science fiction novel which has more to say about the philosophy of physics than do most philosophers and physicists.

  11. Michael Crowe: A History of Vector Analysis
    This is a history book, covering the birth of quaternions and related concepts throughout the nineteenth century, and how these evolved into our modern vector system.  Its long sentences, extremely passive style, and paucity of commas make it a laboured read—but a far easier read than the nineteenth century mathematicians and physicists whom it quotes!  These early scientists probably wrote in the style of their times, but their meaning is often completely opaque to a modern reader.  Although Crowe covers the history in great depth, his book has very little mathematics; for example, you won't learn anything about quaternions or vectors here.  One of the few mathematical discussions—of rotating by using quaternions on page 191—gives pause for thought.  It states/implies that the unit quaternions each produce a rotation of 90°.  They don't; they each produce a rotation 180°.  This mistake seems to be due to the players in the story, and doesn't appear to be a typographical error.

    Classical Mechanics

    1. Herbert Goldstein: Classical Mechanics, 2nd ed, 1980.
      Intermediate to advanced; excellent bibliography.

    2. Introductory: The Feynman Lectures, vol 1.

    3. Keith Symon: Mechanics, 3rd ed., 1971 undergrad. level.

    4. H. Corbin and P. Stehle: Classical Mechanics, 2nd ed., 1960

    5. V.I. Arnold: Mathematical methods of classical mechanics, translated by K. Vogtmann and A. Weinstein, 2nd ed., 1989.
      The appendices are somewhat more advanced and cover all sorts of nifty topics.  Deals with geometrical aspects of classical mechanics.

    6. R. Resnick and D. Halliday: Physics, vol 1, 4th Ed., 1993
      Excellent introduction without much calculus.  Lots of problems and review questions.

    7. Marion & Thornton: Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems, 2nd ed., 1970.
      Undergrad level.  A useful intro to classical dynamics.  Not as advanced as Goldstein, but with real worked-out examples.

    8. A. Fetter and J. Walecka: Theoretical mechanics of particles and continua
      Graduate-level text, a little less impressive than Goldstein, but sometimes a little less obtuse.

    9. Kiran Gupta: Classical Mechanics of Particles and Rigid Bodies (1988)
      At the level of Goldstein, but has many more worked problems at the end of each chapter as a good illustration of the material.  Very useful for preparations for the PhD Qualifying Examination (I presume this is America only — ed.).

    10. Avoid: Physics for Mathematicians: Mechanics I, by Michael Spivak.
      Spivak is a well-known author of calculus and differential geometry textbooks.  His book on mechanics was his attempt to show physicists how a mathematician thinks about their field.  The result—at least in what I've read, the early part of the book—contains a great many comments that apparently are meant to show how much more deeply a mathematician can think about physics than any physicist could, but which only serve to show how good Spivak was at making mountains out of molehills.  He sometimes misunderstood what he was doing, and laid the resulting problem at the feet of physics with an unwarranted self assurance.  An example of his self confidence is his comment on page 25 that Newton need not have said that acceleration dv/dt is in the same direction as force F, because "what other direction could it have?".  Well, how about F × v?  Remarks such as "if you can believe that [Newton's] proof [of a particular thing] can be valid" are tiresome.  The book is peppered with spelling mistakes, and on the rare occasion that its equations have been numbered, the numbering is an unprofessional mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols such as asterisks, asterisks with subscripts, and even the odd set of wavy lines.  Spivak's statement in the preface that the prerequisites for his book are the first two volumes of his multi-volume set on differential geometry (which is utterly unreadable for most mortals) suggests that physicists might best avoid reading this mechanics book—even though a knowledge of differential geometry is not needed for at least the first part of the book.

    Classical Electromagnetism

    1. Jackson: Classical Electrodynamics, 2nd ed., 1975
      Intermediate to advanced, the definitive graduate(US)/undergraduate(UK) text.

    2. Purcell: Berkeley Physics Series Vol 2.
      You can't beat this for the intelligent, reasonably sophisticated beginning physics student.  He tells you on the very first page about the experimental proof of how charge does not vary with speed.
      plus... Chen, Min, Berkeley Physics problems with solutions.

    3. Reitz, Milford and Christy: Foundations of Electromagnetic Theory 4th ed., 1992
      Undergraduate level.  Pretty difficult to learn from at first, but a good reference, for some calculations involving stacks of thin films and their reflectance and transmission properties, for example.  It's a good, rigorous text as far as it goes, which is pretty far, but not all the way.  For example, it has a great section on optical properties of a single thin film between two dielectric semi-infinite media, but no generalization to stacks of films.

    4. Feynman: The Feynman Lectures, Vol. 2

    5. Lorrain & Corson: Electromagnetism, Principles and Applications, 1979

    6. Resnick and Halliday: Physics, vol 2, 4th ed., 1993

    7. Igor Irodov: Problems in Physics Excellent and extensive collection of EM problems for undergrads.

    8. William Smythe: Static and Dynamic Electricity, 3rd ed., 1968
      For the extreme masochists.  Some of the most hair-raising EM problems you'll ever see.  Definitely not for the weak-of-heart.

    9. Landau, Lifshitz, and Pitaevskii: Electrodynamics of Continuous Media, 2nd ed., 1984
      Same level as Jackson's book above, but with lots of material that is not in Jackson.

    10. Marion and Heald: Classical Electromagnetic Radiation, 2nd ed., 1980.
      Undergraduate or low-level graduate.

    Quantum Mechanics

    1. QED: The strange theory of light and matter Richard Feynman.
      One need no longer be confused by this beautiful theory.  Richard Feynman gives an exposition that is once again and by itself a beautiful explanation of the theory of photon-matter interactions.  Taken from a popular, non-technical lecture.

    2. Cohen-Tannoudji: Quantum Mechanics I & II&, 1977.
      Introductory to intermediate.

    3. Liboff: Introductory Quantum Mechanics, 2nd ed., 1992
      Elementary level.  Makes a few mistakes.

    4. Sakurai: Advanced Quantum Mechanics 1967
      Good as an introduction to the very basic beginnings of quantum field theory, except that it has the unfortunate feature of using "imaginary time" to make Minkowski space look euclidean.

    5. Sakurai: Modern Quantum Mechanics, 1985

    6. J. Wheeler and W. Zurek (eds.): Quantum Theory and Measurement, 1983
      On the philosophical end.  People who want to know about interpretations of quantum mechanics should definitely look at this collection of relevant articles.

    7. C. DeWitt and N. Graham: The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
      Philosophical.  Collection of articles.

    8. H. Everett: Theory of the Universal Wavefunction
      An exposition which has some gems on thermodynamics and probability.  Worth reading for this alone.

    9. Bjorken and Drell: Relativistic Quantum Mechanics/ Relativistic Quantum Fields
      (for comments, see under Particle Physics)

    10. Ryder: Quantum Field Theory, 1984

    11. Guidry: Gauge Field Theories: an introduction with applications 1991

    12. Messiah: Quantum Mechanics, 1961

    13. Dirac:
      (a) Principles of QM, 4th ed., 1958
      (b) Lectures in QM, 1964
      (c) Lectures on Quantum Field Theory, 1966

    14. Itzykson and Zuber: Quantum Field Theory, 1980
      Advanced level.

    15. Slater: Quantum theory: Address, essays, lectures.
      Good follow on to Schiff.
      Note: Schiff, Bjorken and Drell, Fetter and Walecka, and Slater are all volumes in "International Series in pure and Applied Physics" published by McGraw-Hill.

    16. Pierre Ramond: Field Theory: A Modern Primer, 2nd edition. Volume 74 in the FiP series.
      The so-called "revised printing" is a must, as they must've rushed the first printing of the 2nd edition because it's full of inexcusable mistakes.

    17. Feynman: The Feynman Lectures, Vol. 3
      A non-traditional approach.  A good place to get an intuitive feel for QM, if one already knows the traditional approach.

    18. Heitler & London: Quantum theory of molecules

    19. J. Bell: Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, 1987
      An excellent collection of essays on the philosophical aspects of QM.

    20. Milonni: The quantum vacuum: an introduction to quantum electrodynamics 1994.

    21. Holland: The Quantum Theory of Motion
      A good bet for a strong foundation in QM.

    22. John von Neumann: Mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics, 1955.
      For the more mathematical side of quantum theory, especially for those who are going to be arguing about measurement theory.

    23. Schiff: Quantum Mechanics, 3rd ed., 1968
      A little old.  Not much emphasis on airy-fairy things like many worlds or excessive angst over Heisenberg UP.  Straight up QM for people who want to do calculations.  Introductory graduate level.  Mostly Schrodinger eqn.  Spin included, but only in an adjunct to Schrodinger.  Not much emphasis on things like Dirac eqn, etc.

    24. Eisberg and Resnick: Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles, 2nd ed., 1985.
      This is a basic intro. to QM, and it is excellent for undergrads.  It is not thorough with the mathematics, but fills in a lot of the intuitive stuff that most textbooks do not present.

    25. David Saxon: Elementary Quantum Mechanics
      A decent undergraduate (senior level) text.

    26. Bethe and Jackiw: Intermediate Quantum Mechanics

    27. P.W.Atkins: Quanta: A Handbook of concepts
      Short entries, arranged alphabetically, emphasis on stuff relevant to quantum chemistry.  Concentrates on the intuition and not the mathematics.

    28. James Peebles: Quantum Mechanics (1993)
      Intermediate level, based on lectures given by the author at Princeton.  Very lucid exposition of the standard material with outstanding selection of mostly original problems at the end of each chapter.

    Statistical Mechanics and Entropy

    1. David Chandler: Introduction to Modern Statistical Mechanics, 1987
      Chandler's book is short, but although its discussions are dressed up as being about physics, you will gain little knowledge of statistical mechanics by reading it.

    2. R. Tolman: Prinicples of Statistical Mechanics. Dover

    3. Kittel & Kroemer: Statistical Thermodynamics
      Not a bad book—but, that said, it has little competition, since good books on statistical mechanics are hard to find.

    4. Keith Stowe: An introduction to Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, 2nd ed., 2007
      Stowe has written an excellent book that has plenty of physics and some very good explanations.  This is worthwhile to buy as your entry into the subject.  His mathematics is sometimes a little short of what you might like to see: for example, he has left a very important calculation to Appendix C, but turns it into something overly complicated there.  Stowe's non-postulatory approach to the subject is far more modern and physically valid and meaningful than Callen's outdated experiment (see below) of simply postulating everything that he found convenient—or possibly didn't understand himself!

    5. F. Reif: Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics.
      Reif's book is well known.  You can find much interesting and useful discussion in it, but its mathematics is generally a forest of obscure notation and unnecessary formalism, heavily cluttered by primes and overbars that add nothing.  Its topics are not presented in a particularly pedagogical or clear way.  Although it's a good book to refer to (once you manage to find what you are looking for), it is not for anyone wanting to learn the subject.  It is a very difficult read, even for advanced physicists, on account of its cluttered notation and long discussions that don't always deliver what they promise.

    6. Felix Bloch: Fundamentals of Statistical Mechanics.

    7. Radu Balescu: Statistical Physics
      Graduate Level.  Good description of non-equilibrium stat. mech., but difficult to read.  It is all there, but often you don't realize it until after you have learned it somewhere else.  Nice development in early chapters about parallels between classical and quantum statistical mechanics.

    8. Abrikosov, Gorkov, and Dyzaloshinski: Methods of Quantum Field Theory in Statistical Physics

    9. Huw Price: Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point
      Semi-popular book on the direction of time, by a philosopher.  It has been controversial because of its criticism of physicists such as Hawking, for their "double standards" in dealing with the old problem on the origin of the arrow of time.  It is thought provoking and clearly written.

    10. H. Callen: Thermodynamics and an Introduction to Thermostatistics, 2nd ed., 1985.
      In the preface to this second edition, Callen described his 25-year-old postulatory approach to thermodynamics and statistical mechanics as "now widely accepted".  In fact, by the time of his second edition, his approach was completely outdated, because it springs from nineteenth-century ideas of thermodynamics in which concepts such as entropy were not understood.  This means that Callen simply postulated the core quantities such as entropy and temperature with essentially no context, and without providing any physical insight or analysis.  It might all look streamlined, but his approach will give you no insight into the difficult and interesting questions of the subject.  Callen described his approach as rendering the subject transparent and simple; but his approach comes across as obscure.  For example, in the early part of the book, he insists on repeatedly writing "1/T1 = 1/T2" for two temperatures that are ascertained to be equal, when anyone else would write "T1 = T2".  And, for what he does write, the devil is often in the details that he tends to leave out.  Even at the start, when Callen introduces the concept of work, he fails to say whether he is talking about the work done on the system, or by the system, leaving the reader to work that out for himself from some irrelevant comments about the mechanical work term −P dV.  Callen's incorrect renditions of the Taylor expansion in an appendix seem to suggest, rather oddly, that he didn't understand the difference between "dx" and "Δx".  His book includes a 20-page postscript in which he makes claims about the role of symmetry in thermodynamics; but, as far as I can tell, this section says nothing useful at all.  I suspect that the reason this book is as frequently cited as it is said to be lies in its being used as the basis for a course by many lecturers who never learned the subject themselves, and hence don't realise that the book's approach is outdated.  If you really want to learn the subject, use the modern statistical approach, in which entropy is defined to relate to numbers of configurations.  As far as readability goes, Callen's writing tends to omit commas; but this can make his sentences tedious to read, since the reader ends up having to make two or three passes to decode what some sentences are saying.  (If you use few commas yourself, study a typical sentence in Callen's book: "the intermediate states of the gas are nonequilibrium states for which the enthalpy is not defined".  Callen is not singling out a special set of non-equilibrium states here; instead, enthalpy is not defined for any non-equilibrium state.  He should have included a single comma, by writing "the intermediate states of the gas are non-equilibrium states, for which the enthalpy is not defined".)

    11. R. Pathria: Statistical Mechanics.

    12. D. Forster: Hydrodynamic Fluctuations, Broken Symmetry, and Correlation Functions.

    13. H. Stanley: Introduction to Phase Transitions and Critical Phenomena.

    14. S.K. Ma: Modern Theory of Critical Phenomena.

    15. N. Goldenfeld: Lectures on Phase Transitions and the Renormalization Group.

    16. J. Sethna: Statistical Mechanics: Entropy, Order Parameters, and Complexity.
      Apparently Sethna's book is meant to be teaching statistical mechanics; but this is not an introductory book, and it provides no real insight into statistical mechanics and entropy.  (I don't know about its sections on order parameters and complexity.)  It is mostly a collection of exercises for the reader, aided by the author's comments.  Don't believe everything you read in it; for example, in his exercise 5.7, Sethna misinterprets the meaning of entropy to say, incorrectly, that the entropy of an isolated system remains constant in time.  He incorrectly describes our universe as photon dominated on page 160, when in fact it is matter dominated.  These and other instances give one the impression that Sethna is not always working in his zone of expertise.  His many exercises might have some content, but they can be tedious to read, since new paragraphs are not indented in them.

    Condensed Matter

    1. Charles Kittel: Introduction to Solid State Physics (ISSP)

    2. Ashcroft and Mermin: Solid State Physics,
      intermediate to advanced

    3. Charles Kittel: Quantum Theory of Solids.
      This is from before the days of his ISSP; it is a more advanced book.  At a similar level. . .

    4. Solid State Theory, by W. A. Harrison
      (a great bargain now that it's published by Dover)

    5. Theory of Solids, by Ziman.

    6. Fundamentals of the Theory of Metals, by Abrikosov
      Half of the book is on superconductivity.

    7. Many-Particle Physics, G. Mahan.

    Special Relativity

    1. Spacetime Physics: Taylor and Wheeler.  A very good introduction.

    2. Relativity: Einstein's popular exposition.

    3. Wolfgang Rindler: Essential Relativity.  Springer 1977
      With a heavy bias towards astrophysics and therefore on a more moderate level formally.  Quite strong on intuition.

    4. A.P. French: Special Relativity
      A thorough introductory text.  Good discussion of the twin paradox, pole and the barn etc.  Plenty of diagrams illustrating Lorentz-transformed coordinates, giving both an algebraic and geometrical insight to SR.  (Seems to be out of print)

    5. Abraham Pais: Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein
      The best technical biography of the life and work of Albert Einstein.

    6. Special Relativity and its Experimental Foundations Yuan Zhong Zhang
      Special relativity is so well established that its experimental foundation is often ignored.  This book fills the gap and will be of relevance to many discussions in sci.physics.relativity

    Particle Physics

    1. Kerson Huang: Quarks, leptons & gauge fields, World Scientific, 1982.
      Good on mathematical aspects of gauge theory and topology.

    2. L. B. Okun: Leptons and quarks, translated from Russian by V. I. Kisin, North-Holland, 1982.

    3. T. D. Lee: Particle physics and introduction to field theory.

    4. Itzykson: Particle Physics

    5. Bjorken & Drell: Relativistic Quantum Mechanics
      One of the more terse books.  The first volume on relativistic quantum mechanics covers the subject in a blinding 300 pages.  Very good if you really want to know the subject.

    6. Francis Halzen & Alan D. Martin: Quarks & Leptons,
      Beginner to intermediate, this is a standard textbook for graduate level courses.  Good knowledge of quantum mechanics and special relativity is assumed.  A very good introduction to the concepts of particle physics.  Good examples, but not a lot of Feynman diagram calculation.  For this, see Bjorken & Drell.

    7. Donald H. Perkins: Introduction to high energy physics
      Regarded by many people in the field as the best introductory text at the undergraduate level.  Covers basically everything with almost no mathematics.

    8. Close, Marten, and Sutton: The Particle Explosion
      A popular exposition of the history of particle physics with terrific photography.

    9. Christine Sutton: Spaceship Neutrino
      A good, historical, largely intuitive introduction to particle physics, seen from the neutrino viewpoint.

    10. Mandl, Shaw: Quantum Field Theory
      Introductory textbook, concise and practically orientated.  Used at many graduate departments as a textbook for the first course in QFT and a bare minimum for experimentalists in high energy physics.  Chapters on Feynman diagrams and cross-section calculations particularly well written and useful.

    11. F.Gross: Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Field Theory
      I am familiar with first part only (rel. QM) which I warmly recommend in conjunction with Mandl, since Klein-Gordon and Dirac Equation are explained in greater detail than in Mandl.  One of my professors likes a lot the rest of the book too, but I haven't spent much time on it and can't comment.  Published in 1993.

    12. S. Weinberg: The Quantum Theory of Fields, Vol I,II, 1995
      The usual Weinberg stuff: refreshing, illuminating viewpoints on every page.  Perhaps most suitable for graduate students who already know some basics of QFT.

    13. M.B. Green, J.H. Schwarz, E. Witten: Superstring Theory (2 vols)
      Although these two volumes do not touch the important new developments in string theories, they are still the best texts for the basics.  To keep up with this fast developing subject, it is necessary to download the papers and reviews as hep-th e-prints.

    14. M. Kaku: Strings, Conformal Fields and Topology
      Just a little more up-to-date than GSW.

    15. Superstrings: A Theory of Everything, ed. P.C.W. Davies
      Through transcripts of interviews with Schwarz, Witten, Green, Gross, Ellis, Salam, Glashow, Feynman, and Weinberg, we learn about string theory, and how different physicists feel about its prospects as a theory of everything.  This also predates the new developments that revolutionised string theory after 1993.

    16. A. Pais: Inward Bound
      This can be regarded as a companion volume to his biography of Einstein (see special relativity section).  It covers the history of particle physics through the twentieth century, but is best for the earlier half.

    17. R.P. Crease, C.C. Mann: The Second Creation 1996
      Another history of particle physics in the twentieth century.  This one is especially good on the development of the standard model.  Full of personal stories taken from numerous interviews, it is difficult to put down.

    18. L. Lederman, D. Teresi: The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? 2006
      This book describes the search for the Higgs Boson at Fermilab.  It describes what the Higgs is and gives some background to the subject of particle physics.  It also gives an account of some more general physics history.

    General Relativity

    1. Misner, Thorne and Wheeler: Gravitation W.H. Freeman & Co., San Francisco 1973
      Usually referred to as "MTW".  It has two tracks for different levels.  A famous work in the subject whose main strength is probably its various asides, historical and otherwise.  While it has much interesting reading, it is not a book to learn relativity from: its approach is all over the place, and it pushes gawdy notation which no one actually uses to do anything useful.

    2. Robert Wald: Space, Time, and Gravity: the Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes.
      A good non-technical introduction, with a nice mix of mathematical rigor and comprehensible physics.

    3. B. Schutz: A First Course in General Relativity.
      A readable and useful book, to a point.  The 1988 edition, at least, unfortunately has a tangled approach to its Lambda index notation that is wrong in places.  Schutz goes to great lengths to convince the reader of the usefulness of one-forms, but is clearly unaware that everything he does with them can be done far more simply using vectors alone.  Beware the show-stopping typos in the Riemann components for the Schwarzschild metric on page 315.  The discussion about Riemann tensor signs on page 171 is also wrong, and will give you wrong results if you apply it.  Indeed, that discussion is indicative of a general naïveté in the book's early mathematics as a whole.

    4. S. Weinberg: Gravitation and Cosmology
      A good book that takes a somewhat different approach to the subject.

    5. Hans Ohanian: Gravitation & Spacetime (recently back in print)
      For someone who actually wants to learn to work problems, ideal for self-teaching, and math is introduced as needed, rather than in a colossal blast.

    6. Robert Wald: General Relativity
      A more advanced textbook than Wald's earlier book, appropriate for an introductory graduate course in GR.  It strikes just the right balance, in my opinion, between mathematical rigor and physical intuition.  It has great mathematics appendices for those who care about proving theorems carefully, and a good introduction to the problems behind quantum gravity (although not to their solutions).  I think it's MUCH better than either MTW or Weinberg.

    7. Clifford Will: Was Einstein Right? Putting General Relativity to the Test
      Non-technical account of the experimental support for GR, including the "classic three tests", but going well beyond them.

    8. Kip Thorne: Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy
      An award-winning popular account of black holes and related objects with many historical anecdotes from the author's personal experiences.  The book is famous for the final sections about time travel through wormholes.

    9. Avoid Dirac's small book on lectures in GR, unless you like reading books that have almost no discussion of their mathematical content (and almost no discussion of anything else, either).  It's a sure bet that this book was only published because Dirac wrote it.

    Mathematical Methods

    1. Morse and Feshbach: Methods of Theoretical Physics.  This book used to be hard to find, but can now be bought at feshbachpublishing.com.

    2. Mathews and Walker: Mathematical Methods of Physics.  An absolute joy for those who love math, and very informative even for those who don't.  [This has been severely disputed!—ed]

    3. Arfken: Mathematical Methods for Physicists Academic Press
      Good introduction at graduate level.  Not comprehensive in any area, but covers many areas widely.  Arfken is to math methods what numerical recipes is to numerical methods — good intro, but not the last word.

    4. Zwillinger: Handbook of Differential Equations. Academic Press
      Kind of like CRC tables but for ODEs and PDEs.  Good reference book when you've got a differential equation and want to find a solution.

    5. Gradshteyn and Ryzhik: Table of Integrals, Series, and Products Academic
      THE book of integrals.  Huge, but useful when you need an integral.

    6. F.W. Byron and R. Fuller: Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics (2 vols)
      is a really terrific text for self-study; it is like a baby version of Morse & Feshbach.

    Nuclear Physics

    1. Preston and Bhaduri: Structure of the Nucleus

    2. Blatt and Weisskopf: Theoretical Nuclear Physics

    3. DeShalit and Feshbach: Theoretical Nuclear Physics
      This is serious stuff.  Also quite expensive even in paper.  I think the hard cover is out of print.  This is volume I (structure).  Volume II (scattering) is also available.

    4. Satchler: Direct Nuclear Reactions

    5. Walecka: Theoretical Nuclear and Subnuclear Physics (1995)
      Covers advanced topics in theoretical nuclear physics from a modern perspective and includes results of past 20 years in a field which makes it unique.  Not an easy material to read but invaluable for people seeking an updated review of the present status in the field.

    6. Krane: Introductory nuclear physics
      Introductory-to-intermediate level textbook in basic nuclear physics for senior undergraduates.  Good, clear and relatively comprehensive exposition of "standard" material: nuclear models, alfa, beta, gamma radioactivity, nuclear reactions. . .  Last edition issued in 1988.


    1. J. V. Narlikar: Introduction to Cosmology.1983 Jones & Bartlett Publ.
      For people with a solid background in physics and higher math, THE introductory text, IMHO, because it hits the balance between mathematical accuracy (tensor calculus and stuff) and intuitive clarity/geometrical models very well for grad student level.  Of course, it has flaws but only noticeable by the Real Experts (TM). . .

    2. Hawking: A Brief History of Time
      The ghost-written book that made Popular Science popular, but an odd mixture of easy physics and very advanced physics.

    3. Weinberg: First Three Minutes
      A very good book.  It's pretty old, but most of the information in it is still correct.

    4. Timothy Ferris: Coming of Age in the Milky Way and The Whole Shebang
      More Popular Science, and very readable.

    5. Kolb and Turner: The Early Universe.
      At a more advanced level, a standard reference.  As the title implies, K&T cover mostly the strange physics of very early times: it's heavy on the particle physics, and skimps on the astrophysics.  There's a primer on large-scale structure, which is the most active area of cosmological research, but it's really not all that good.

    6. Peebles: Principles of Physical Cosmology. Comprehensive, and on the whole it's quite a good book, but it's rather poorly organized.  I find myself jumping back and forth through the book whenever I want to find anything.

    7. Black Holes and Warped Spacetime, by William J. Kaufmann III.
      This is a great, fairly thorough, though non-mathematical description of black holes and spacetime as it relates to cosmology.  I was impressed by how few mistakes Kaufmann makes in simplifying, while most such books tend to sacrifice accuracy for simplicity.

    8. M.V. Berry: Principles of Cosmology and Gravitation
      This is very well written, and useful as an undergrad text.

    9. Dennis Overbye: Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos The unfinished history of converge on Hubble's constant is presented, from the perspective of competing astrophysics rival teams and institute, along with a lot of background on cosmology (a lot on inflation, for instance).  A good insight into the scientific process.

    10. Joseph Silk: The Big Bang
      I consider Silk's book an absolute must for those who want a quick run at the current state of big bang cosmology and some of the recent (1988) issues which have given so many of us lots of problems to solve.  [of course that's eons out of date now—ed.]

    11. Bubbles, voids, and bumps in time: the new cosmology edited by James Cornell.
      This is quite a nice and relatively short read for some of the pressing issues (as of 1987-88) in astrophysical cosmology.

    12. T. Padmanabhan: Structure formation in the universe
      A no-nonsense book for those who want to calculate some problems strictly related to the formation of structure in the universe.  The book even comes complete with problems at the end of each chapter.  A bad thing about this book is that there isn't any coverage on clusters of galaxies and the one really big thing that annoys the hell outta me is that the bibliography for each chapter is all combined in one big bibliography towards the end of the book which makes for lots of page flipping.

    13. P.J.E. Peebles: The large-scale structure of the universe
      This is a definitive book for anyone who desires an understanding of the mathematics required to develop the theory for models of large scale structure.  The essential techniques in the description of how mass is able to cluster under gravity from a smooth early universe are discussed.  While I find it dry in some places, there are noteworthy sections (e.g. statistical tests, n-point correlation functions, etc.).

    14. Andrzej Krasinski: Inhomogeneous Cosmological Models
      If you are blinded by the dogma of the cosmological principle, this book is a real eye opener.  A technical, historical and bibliographical survey of possible inhomogeous universes from solutions of general relativity.

    15. Alan Lightman and Roberta Brawer: Origins: The lives and worlds of modern cosmologists, 1990
      Transcripts of interview with 27 of the most influential cosmologists from the past few decades.  This book provides a unique record of how their cosmological theories have been formed.


    1. Hannu Karttunen et al. (eds.): Fundamental Astronomy.
      The very good book covering all of astronomy (also for absolute beginners) AND still going into a lot of detail for special work for people more involved AND presenting excellent graphics and pictures.

    2. Pasachoff: Contemporary Astronomy
      Good introductory textbook for the nontechnical reader.  It gives a pretty good overview of the important topics, and it has good pictures.

    3. Frank Shu: The physical universe: an introduction to astronomy
      This is a really grand book, which covers a huge sweep of physics in its 600-odd pages.  Not only does it describe the field of astronomy in great detail, but it also covers in detail the laws of classical and quantum mechanics, atrophysics and stellar evolution, cosmology, special and general relativity; and last but not least, the biochemical basis of life.  In fact the last few chapters would make a great addition to a biochemist's library!

    4. Kenneth R. Lang: Astrophysical formulae: a compendium for the physicist and astrophysicist
      Here is everything you wanted to know (and more!) about astrophysical formulae on a one-line/one-paragraph/one-shot deal.  Of course, the formulae come complete with references (a tad old, mind you) but it's a must for everyone who's working in astronomy and astrophysics.  You learn something new every time you flip through the pages!

    Plasma Physics

    (See Robert Heeter's sci.physics.fusion FAQ for details)

    Numerical Methods/Simulations

    1. Johnson and Rees: Numerical Analysis Addison Wesley
      Undergraduate level broad intro.

    2. Numerical Recipes in X (X = C, Fortran, Pascal, etc.) Tueklosky and Press

    3. Young and Gregory: A survey of Numerical Mathematics Dover 2 volumes.
      Excellent overview at grad. level.  Emphasis toward solution of elliptic PDEs, but good description of methods to get there including linear algebra, matrix techniques, ODE-solving methods, and interpolation theory.  Biggest strength is it provides a coherent framework and structure to attach most commonly used numerical methods.  This helps understanding about why to use one method or another.  2 volumes.

    4. Hockney and Eastwood: Computer Simulation Using Particles Adam Hilger
      Good exposition of particle-in-cell (PIC) method and extensions.  Applications to plasmas, astronomy, and solid state are discussed.  Emphasis is on description of algorithms.  Some results shown.

    5. Birdsall and Langdon: Plasma Physics via Computer Simulations
      PIC simulation applied to plasmas.  Source codes shown.  First part is almost a tutorial on how to do PIC.  Second part is like a series of review articles on different PIC methods.

    6. Tajima: Computational Plasma Physics: With Applications to Fusion and Astrophysics Addison Wesley Frontiers in physics Series.
      Algorithms described.  Emphasis on physics that can be simulated.  Applications limited to plasmas, but subject areas very broad, fusion, cosmology, solar astrophysics, magnetospheric physics, plasma turbulence, general astrophysics.

    Fluid Dynamics

    1. D.J. Tritton: Physical Fluid Dynamics

    2. G.K. Batchelor: Introduction to Fluid Dynamics

    3. S. Chandrasekhar: Hydrodynamics and Hydromagnetic Stability

    4. Segel: Mathematics Applied to Continuum Mechanics Dover.

    Nonlinear Dynamics, Complexity, and Chaos

    1. Prigogine: Exploring Complexity
      Or any other Prigogine book.  If you've read one, you read most of of them (A Poincaré recurrence maybe?).

    2. Guckenheimer and Holmes: Nonlinear Oscillations, Dynamical Systems, and Bifurcations of Vector Fields Springer
      Borderline phys./math.  Advanced level.  A nuts-and-bolts "how to" textbook.  They let the topic provide all the razzmatazz, which is plenty if you pay attention and remember the physics that it applies to.

    3. Lichtenberg, A. J. and M. A. Lieberman (1982): Regular and Stochastic Motion.  New York, Springer-Verlag.

    4. Ioos and Joseph: Elementary Stability and Bifurcation Theory.  New York, Springer.

    5. Heinz Pagels: The Dreams Of Reason
      He is a very clear and interesting, captivating writer, and presents the concepts in a very intuitive way.  The level is popular science, but it is still useful for physicists who know little of complexity.

    6. M. Mitchell Waldrop: Complexity
      A popular intro to the subject of spontaneous orders, complexity and so on.  Covers implications for economics, biology etc and not just physics.

    Optics (Classical and Quantum), Lasers

    1. Max Born and Emil Wolf: Principles of Optics: Electromagnetic Theory of Propagation
      Standard reference.

    2. Sommerfeld:
      For the more classically minded.

    3. Allen and Eberly: Optical Resonance and Two-Level Atoms.
      For quantum optics, the most readable but most limited.

    4. Goodman: Introduction to Fourier Optics.
      If it isn't in this book, it isn't Fourier optics.

    5. Quantum Optics and Electronics (Les Houches Summer School 1963 or 1964, but someone has claimed that Gordon and Breach, NY, are going to republish it in 1995), edited by DeWitt, Blandin, and Cohen- Tannoudji, is noteworthy primarily for Glauber's lectures, that form the basis of quantum optics as it is known today.

    6. Sargent, Scully, & Lamb: Laser Physics

    7. Yariv: Quantum Electronics

    8. Siegman: Lasers

    9. Shen: The Principles of Nonlinear Optics

    10. Meystre & Sargent: Elements of Quantum Optics

    11. Cohen-Tannoudji, Dupont-Roc, & Grynberg: Photons, Atoms and Atom-Photon Interactions.

    12. Hecht: Optics
      A very good introductory optics book.

    13. Practical Holography by Graham Saxby, Prentice Hall: New York; 1988.
      This is a very clear and detailed book that is an excellent introduction to holography for interested undergraduate physics people, as well as advanced readers, especially those who are interested in the practical details of making holograms and the theory behind them.

    Mathematical Physics

    Lie Algebra, Topology, Knot Theory, Tensors, etc.

    These are books that are sort of talky and fun to read (but still substantial—some harder than others).  These include things mathematicians can read about physics as well as vice versa.  These books are different than the "bibles" one must have on hand at all times to do mathematical physics.

    1. Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat, Cecile DeWitt-Morette, and Margaret Dillard-Bleick: Analysis, manifolds, and physics (2 volumes)
      Something every mathematical physicist should have at his bedside until he knows it inside and out—but some people say it's not especially easy to read.

    2. Jean Dieudonne: A panorama of pure mathematics, as seen by N. Bourbaki, translated by I.G. Macdonald.
      Gives the big picture in mathematics.

    3. Robert Hermann: Lie groups for physicists, Benjamin-Cummings, 1966.

    4. George Mackey: Quantum mechanics from the point of view of the theory of group representations, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, 1984.

    5. George Mackey: Unitary group representations in physics, probability, and number theory.

    6. Charles Nash and S. Sen: Topology and geometry for physicists.

    7. B. Booss and D.D. Bleecker: Topology and analysis: the Atiyah-Singer index formula and gauge-theoretic physics.

    8. Bamberg and S. Sternberg: A Course of Mathematics for Students of Physics

    9. Bishop & Goldberg: Tensor Analysis on Manifolds.

    10. Dodson & Poston: Tensor Geometry.

    11. Abraham, Marsden & Ratiu: Manifolds, Tensor Analysis and Applications.

    12. M. Nakahara: Topology, Geometry and Physics.

    13. Morandi: The Role of Topology in Classical and Quantum Physics

    14. Singer, Thorpe: Lecture Notes on Elementary Topology and Geometry

    15. L. Kauffman: Knots and Physics, World Scientific, Singapore, 1991.

    16. C. Yang and M. Ge: Braid group, Knot Theory & Statistical Mechanics.

    17. D. Kastler: C-algebras and their applications to Statistical Mechanics and Quantum Field Theory.

    18. Courant and Hilbert: Methods of Mathematical Physics Wiley
      Really a mathematics book in disguise.  Emphasis on ODEs and PDEs.  Proves existence, etc.  Very comprehensive.  2 volumes.

    19. Cecille Dewitt is publishing a book on manifolds that should be out soon (maybe already is).  Very high level, but supposedly of great importance for anyone needing to set the Feynman path integral in a firm foundation.

    20. Howard Georgi: Lie Groups for Particle Phyiscs Addison Wesley Frontiers in Physics Series.

    21. Synge and Schild.

    Atomic Physics

    1. Max Born: Atomic Physics
      A classic, though a little old.

    2. Gerhard Herzberg: Atomic spectra and atomic structure, Translated with the co-operation of the author by J. W. T.Spinks. — New York, Dover publications, 1944
      Old but good.

    3. E. U. Condon and G. H. Shortley: The theory of atomic spectra, CUP 1951

    4. G. K. Woodgate: Elementary atomic structure, 2d ed. Oxford: New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 1983, c 1980
      Introductory level.

    5. Alan Corney: Atomic and laser spectroscopy, Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press, 1977
      Excellent,fairly advanced, large experimental bent, but good development of background.  Good stuff on lasers (gas, dye)

    Low Temperature Physics, Superconductivity

    1. The Theory of Quantum Liquids, by D. Pines and P. Nozieres

    2. Superconductivity of Metals and Alloys, P. G. DeGennes A classic introduction.

    3. Theory of Superconductivity, J. R. Schrieffer

    4. Superconductivity, M. Tinkham

    5. Experimental techniques in low-temperature physics, by Guy K. White.
      This is considered by many as a "bible" for those working in experimental low-temperature physics.

    Physics for the Layman

    1. Avoid: Beyond Einstein: Michio Kaku and Jennifer Thompson
      This is a typical "forefront physics" book for the layman from the 1990s.  Kaku believes that string theory will solve all the problems of physics, and lets us know it in this book.  In the 20+ years since this book was written, none of the glorious predictions that Kaku made of string theory have come true, and so this book is no longer relevant today.  But its main problem is that even its explanations of standard physics are usually too woolly even to be described as incorrect, let alone correct.  It's not clear whether Kaku really doesn't know his subject, or whether he and Thompson have watered it down so much that what they describe might as well have been written by someone who doesn't know his subject.  If you know little physics, you will learn incorrect ideas from this book.  And if you know a lot of physics, you'll put it down quickly.

    2. Mrs Perkins's Electric Quilt: Paul Nahin
      (British speakers will want to correct that to "Mrs Perkins' Electric Quilt".)  We include this book only as an example of a something that probably has less appeal to physicists than it tries to make out.  Nahin has written several books on general physics for the non-specialist.  I wonder if this book is typical.  He tends to make mountains out of molehills when explaining the mathematics, and he isn't always correct (see, e.g., his incorrect analysis of the game of tic-tac-toe at the end of Chapter 13).  This particular book is a series of rather dry and finicky worked problems that Nahin finds interesting, but which probably won't stimulate your appetite to learn more physics or maths.  One of the few interesting problems in this book is a kinematical calculation in the first chapter that produces a contradiction when it applies a particular acceleration to a particle; and yet Nahin doesn't give a proper explanation for why the relevant calculation fails.  (The reason it fails is that the acceleration of "velocity cubed" can only describe a distance-versus-time curve that is drawn such that its slope becomes infinite at some finite time, and so it must be invalid to demand that this acceleration applies for all times, as Nahin does.)  And yet, after showing that this physical situation is indeed nonsense, Nahin would have us believe, in his preface, that he has proved a mathematical theorem using physics, by solving a very similar problem without asking whether that scenario is also nonsense!  (In fact, contrary to Nahin's claim, the problem he solves in the preface contains no physics, even though it is dressed up as a physics problem.  It is simply a differential equation.)  Nahin's comments on the zeta function are also incorrect: he thinks that just because two or three values of the function appear in physics, that "the zeta function often appears in physical problems".  Rather, the zeta function has never been found in physics: Nahin doesn't appreciate the difference between a function and its isolated values.  His reasoning is like saying that parabolas occur in calendars, because the numbers 1, 4, 9, 16, and 25 appear as dates in a month.  It is perhaps representative of his general approach in the book, in which he gives a higher credence to many ideas and worked examples than physicists and mathematicians would.

    3. Avoid: The Physicist's World: Thomas Grissom
      We include this book as an example of a book that contains a good deal of incorrect physics.  Grissom is a philosopher who managed to publish a book about physics without knowing much physics, and it's a shame that he has taught the content of this book for some (many?) years to philosophy students, who must've gone out into the big world thinking that physicists must be incredibly dumb if they really believe the naïve concepts that Grissom thinks physics is all about.  This book gets all the big tenets of the subject wrong: Grissom thinks that special relativity is all about what is seen with the eye, a mistake that only first-year students are expected to make; he thinks that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle concerns the limits of measurement of quantities that are otherwise perfectly well defined; he thinks that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is an actual law that must be obeyed.  And apparently he thinks that physicists spend a great deal of their time pondering the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks.  All completely wrong.

Thanks to the 30+ contributors who made this compilation possible.