Jim Al-Khalili is a physicist, science communicator and presenter of The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4. His newest book, The World According To Physics, documents his self-confessed love affair with the subject, which we reckon makes him the perfect person choose some of his favourite physics books. If you’re interested in physics, here’s his pick of the best science books to read.
The best physics books, according to Jim Al-Khalili
Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!
If you wanted to fall in love with physics, read this book. it’s just full of so many gems, about how maverick physicists like Richard Feynman were thinking.
I’m still wrestling with a sort of moral dilemma, I think, as we now look back and re-examine people who were unquestioningly hero-worshipped in the past. In Feynman’s private life he was a misogynist, and some of the things he did, there’s no way you could countenance these days.
We do need to re-evaluate what Feynman stood for, but I’m still uncomfortable about wiping his achievements from history, or the things that he did that we would not be uncomfortable about.
Read more science book recommendations:
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The Born–Einstein letters
Max Born and Albert Einstein
This book is a compilation of letters between Max Born, who was a German physicist and one of the founders of quantum mechanics, and Albert Einstein.
The pair of them had a long-running correspondence, to-ing and fro-ing about ideas on the nature of reality and the nature of physics, which I read and fell in love with as a student.
This is the book on quantum mechanics that I wish I’d written, but I’m really glad I read. Philip Ball really encapsulates the sheer mystery of quantum mechanics so well.
Read more physics from Philip Ball:
- Lise Meitner: the nuclear pioneer who escaped the Nazis
- Meet the renegades building a nuclear fusion reactor in your neighbourhood
The Demon in the Machine
This book is really about whether a physicist can define what life is, and the living systems that are far from equilibrium, yet maintain high-order. For Paul Davies, life is an information processing machine. That’s his demon in the machine.
It’s one of those books where you read a few pages, then you lean back and think and go, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
The Arrow of Time
Roger Highfield and Peter Coveney
This looks at something profound about the nature of time itself. Why does time go from the past to the future? What is it that gives time a direction? It pulls together lots of different ideas in physics that are still relevant today.
The World According to Physics by Jim Al-Khalili is out now (£12.99, Princeton University Press).
Listen to episodes of the Science Focus Podcast with Jim Al-Khalili:
- Why should we care about science and scientists?
- What if the Earth’s magnetic field died?
- Why AI is not the enemy