• Question: Can you please suggest some very good books and websites for understanding modern physics and also which would help me in my journey for becoming a physicist.

    Asked by rajathjackson to Chris, Dave, David, Fiona, Jack on 25 Jun 2013.
    • Photo: Jack Miller

      Jack Miller answered on 25 Jun 2013:

      Hi Rajath,

      First off, I’d much rather recommend you ensure you go to a good university to study physics — you’ll come across all of these things then, and, trust me, they’ll make damn sure you know them (aren’t exams fun?). I don’t know much (if anything) about your personal circumstances, but I do know that there are a large number of good universities all over the world, and that most of them offer some form of financial assistance to people who need it.

      That being said, I think if you start with the link David came across — the page written by t’Hooft, (http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~hooft101/theorist.html) it’s a jolly good place to start. If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll find a good list of books, most of which I suspect we will all have come across and know on first name-terms (‘Ahh, Landau & Liftshitz’, for example…).

      The only book I can freely link to off the top of my head that you might like is the one for the second year quantum mechanics course we have here. It’s written by someone called James Binney, and you can find him delivering a set of lectures to go with the book on iTunes U (search for ‘oxford quantum mechanics’). You’ll probably find it hard going, and if you don’t understand a piece of mathematics, go and find out about them. It’s also a very good idea to do one or two of the questions at the end of each chapter. Enjoy! http://www-thphys.physics.ox.ac.uk/people/JamesBinney/qb.pdf

      I should point out that there’s an awful lot to physics beyond quantum mechanics and the theoretical — everything from ocean dynamics, to cosmology, to building useful machines to see inside people. I really enjoy lab work, and you might too (it’s very different from what you have at school). I really would follow things through in the order t’Hooft says on his page — it was very similar to my university course, but somewhat less broad (i.e. no oceans, atmospheres, bacteria and so on).

      Hope that helps!

      — Jack

    • Photo: Dave Farmer

      Dave Farmer answered on 25 Jun 2013:

      Hi rajath,

      Jack’s advice is good, concentrate on getting to a good university first and foremost. He’s provided you some great links to getting up to speed with your maths, so i’m going to try offer some stuff to get you thinking the right way.

      If you’d like to start reading things, then I would advise books such as Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces (followed by Six Not So Easy Pieces). I think books like these will start getting you thinking the right way about physics, without getting bogged down in the minutiae to early on. Another book I’d recommend is A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Although it is not a Physics specific book, or even written by a scientist, it is a fantastic account of how major scientific discoveries have been made, and the people behind them. It’s certainly given me a greater appreciation of the history and scope of science, so I would recommend it to anyone.

      If you’re looking for good quality online courses, try these:


      They’re administered by some top universities and are completely free, which is always nice.


    • Photo: Chris Mansell

      Chris Mansell answered on 25 Jun 2013:

      Hi rajathjackson,

      My advice would be to read what you find interesting. Later on in your journey, you may be so busy (e.g. have so many exams) that you don’t have time to read as much as you would like about your favourite areas of physics. I don’t know how busy you are at the moment but if you get a bit of time that you can devote to physics, I would recommend looking at the things you find most fascinating (rather than things you feel you have to read in order to become a good physicist).