The Best Physics Books in 2016 – SAND

by mike perricone

As 2016 draws to a close, symmetry writer Mike Perricone takes us through the latest additions to his collection of popular science books related to particle physics.

You are reading: Best physics books 2016

The year 2016 brought us books on topics such as gravitational waves, the “pope” of physics, the history of science from record paper, and the concept of “now”.

black hole blues and other songs from outer space, by janna levin

The oldest sound scientists have ever heard was the “chirp” of gravitational waves emanating from a colliding black hole billions of years ago. the sound was intercepted by the gravitational-wave observatory’s laser interferometer, 40 years after the detector proposal was rejected.

With the deft touch of a novelist (a madman dreams of turing machines, how the universe got its spots), janna levin, professor of physics and astronomy at columbia university, follows the struggles of the original troika of the the project’s 1970s: Rai Weiss, Ron Drever, and theorist Kip Thorne, and the eventual success of director Barry Barish, who spent 1994-2004 putting the project on a solid footing.

seven short physics lessons, by carlo rovelli

carlo rovelli, one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory and head of the quantum gravity group at the center for physical theory at aix-marseille university, takes readers through the history of Physics from Einstein and Bohr to Heisenberg and Hawking.

Special acknowledgment to its translators, simon carnell and erica segre, who bring us phrases like these from rovelli’s original italian: “[b]efore experiments, measurements, mathematics and rigorous deductions, science is about especially visions. science begins with a vision. scientific thought feeds on the ability to ‘see’ things differently from how they have been seen before”. you’ll want to memorize this poetic gem.

the pope of physics: enrico fermi and the birth of the atomic age, by bettina hoerlein and gino segré

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fermi method. fermy questions. fermi surface. fermi sea. fermions. fermi institute. fermi gamma ray space telescope Physicist Enrico Fermi, known in part for creating the world’s first nuclear reactor, definitely made his mark on physics.

fermi won the nobel prize in 1938, and in subsequent years the prize went to no fewer than six of fermi’s students. As a scientist, he was considered infallible: colleagues and students in Rome nicknamed him “the pope”.

Co-authors Bettina Hoerlein and her spouse Gino Segré, nephew of Nobel Laureate Emilio Segré, Fermi’s student and lifelong friend, create a human likeness of the brilliant scientist.

a brief introduction to . . .

Part of a long-running and wide-ranging series from Oxford University Press, very short introductions that combine solid science with energetic and accessible writing by eminent scientists. Averaging around 150 pages, this year’s top physics-related offerings include:

  • black holes, by katherine blundell: what we know and don’t know about black holes; how they are created and discovered; separating fact from fiction. This title is especially timely this year with the detection of gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes. blundell is professor of astronomy at oxford.
  • astrophysics, by james binney: the physics of supernovae, planetary systems, and the application of special and general relativity. binney, an astronomer at oxford university, has won the maxwell and dirac medals.
  • copernicus, by owen gingerich: regarded as the foremost authority on copernicus, gingerich places copernicus in the context of his time and his place in the scientific revolution. gingerich is a senior astronomer emeritus at the smithsonian astrophysical observatory.

the new york times science book: 150 years of science reporting in the new york times, edited by david corcoran, former editor of the weekly science times

In this journey through a century and a half of science reporting from the New York Times, the astronomy and physics sections are not to be missed.

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from the archives come headlines like “sudden birth of stars, claims lemaitre”, from a 1933 conference in britain (with quotes from cosmology’s early luminaries william desitter and sir arthur eddington) and “einstein exposes his new Theory,” written in 1919. In the 1919 article, Einstein insists to the reporter struggling to explain his extraordinary concepts to lay readers: “I am trying to speak as clearly as possible.”

now: the physics of time, by richard a. müller

einstein was somewhat casual about time, saying “the only reason for time is so it doesn’t all happen at once.”

richard muller, experimental cosmologist, professor of physics at the university of california, berkeley, and author of physics for future presidents, has more use for the concept. In this book, she explains that “the flow of time is the continual creation of new nows.” muller confronts all comers and gets into a lot of arguments along the way.

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who cares about particle physics? making sense of the higgs boson, the large hadron collider and cern, by pauline gagnon

pauline gagnon, an investigator for the lhc cms experiment, began writing a widely read blog during the last two years of the search for the higgs boson. In her first book, Gagnon explains the experimental process to non-scientists.

Each chapter concludes with summaries of key points, and in the final chapter, he assures readers that the lhc is still in its early stages. Don’t miss the appendix on the possible (and probable) contributions of his first wife, Mileva Mari Einstein, to Einstein’s amazing early work.

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welcome to the universe: an astrophysical tour, by neil degrasse tyson, michael a. Strus and J. richard gott

A cross between a textbook and a coffee table,

welcome to the universe is a highly enjoyable compilation of introductory astronomy lectures for non-science students by neil degrasse tyson, michael a. Strauss and J. Richard Gott at Princeton University. His talks present physics with clarity and a bit of levity, with references to pop culture elements like Toy Story and Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure. gott even tackles time travel. what’s not to like?

the cosmic web: mysterious architecture of the universe, by j. richard gott

j. Richard Gott was one of the first to describe the structure of the universe as sponge-like, made up of equally divided, interlocking, holey surfaces. the concept may sound strange, but it has since been confirmed by numerous studies of the sky.

A combination of anecdote, physics and mathematics, this is a challenge. you’ll need your cosmic thinking hat.

13.8: the search for the true age of the universe and the theory of everything, by john gribbin

Visiting Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sussex in the UK and veteran science author John Gribbin (best known for The Search for Shrödinger’s Cat) wants to synthesize the great theories of the 20th century (general relativity and mechanical mechanics). quantum) in his own quest for a theory of everything.

in his explanation, related to the estimated age of the universe (13.8 billion years), gribbin pays particular attention to the often overlooked female scientist henrietta swan leavitt (who proposed using cepheid variable stars as standard candles) and Cecilia Payne (who first predicted that hydrogen was the most common element in the universe).


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