Recommendations for maths/physics books for people who actually quite like the odd equation?(21 Posts)
Have been a bit disappointed recently by pop science books on maths/physics that are apparently aimed at people who don't want to see any numbers.
Decades ago I studied both up to A level/early undergrad - so while I've entirely forgotten all the details I can cope with Hard Sums, if explained from scratch. I'm finding that explaining stuff to DS is rekindling my interest (though at 4 he's only getting fairly simple explanations) - so am looking for books about physics or maths that are hopefully a bit more visually exciting than my old physics textbooks.
Any recommendations? Not really looking for kids' books as this is for me and I want something a bit more meaty than "here are some stars. They are very far away! Look at the pretty colours!"
I don't know if they're the sort of thing you want but I've really enjoyed:
Alex's Adventures in Numberland (perhaps too few sums for what you want, but still very good)
Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh (really excellent)
How To Cut a Cake & other Mathematical Conundrums by Ian Stewart
What We Cannot Know by Marcus du Sautoy
Get some books by Michio Kaku. A bit of John Gribbin goes down well, too. Also, not a 'topic' book but more of a diary/documentary book suggestion is how Georg Bednorz and Alex Muller found high temperature superconductors. Fascinating. I will see if I can find the title; I read it when I was about 12 (Muller wrote it) and it got me hooked on physics.
OP - re "books about physics or maths that are hopefully a bit more visually exciting than my old physics textbooks"
I have some non-fiction recommendations for you:
Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You - Marcus Chown (All QT explained in simple terms and sentences. Really well done, I highly recommend this book)
Alan Turing: The Enigma - Andrew Hodges (Very detailed explanation of how Enigma code was broken AND a thorough explanation of Turing's contributions to the field of mathematics, as well as what the field was like before him.)
The Strangest Man - Graham Farmelo (Biography of Paul Dirac, pioneer quantum physicist and mathematician who "discovered" antimatter through mathematical calculations. Also a fascinating account of the rush towards the atom bomb and its aftermath, with a famous cast including Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein, Schrodinger, etc)
And this one is historical fiction:
Measuring The World by Daniel Kehlmann (I loved this book, which follows the lives of the world's most acclaimed mathematician Gauss and aristocrat/cartographer Humboldt)
I second the suggestion by CoteDAzur about Graham Farmelo's book on Dirac. It is excellent. I was taught at uni by someone who had Dirac as his PhD supervisor. An usual man.
Thanks for the recs! Sound like a few to check out, I like the sound of the Ian Stewart book and have bought the Hodges Turing bio. Will have a browse of the rest next time I'm in a bookshop.
Having thought a bit more since my original post, I think I am particularly interested in books that you have to read with a pen and paper to try things out, rather than reading it straight through like a novel. There are lots of entertaining and absorbing examples of the latter but the former seem less common?
J E Gordon's The New Science of Strong Materials is dated in parts, naturally (1968!) but a good read still.
OP, I think you would also like Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
You would probably like all his books, actually.
Halfway through Cryptonomicon - excellent call Cote, thank you!
I recommend Robert Oppenheimer A Life inside the Centre by Ray Monk. Oppenheimer of course became known as the "Father of the Atomic Bomb" as the Head of the Los Alamos Laboratory which in a very short period of time transformed nuclear physics and produced the first nuclear weapons. But Oppenheimer was a much more complex figures than that suggests. The implications of the Los Alamos discoveries gave this fragile, delicate man enormous difficulties which, in the climate of fear and paranoia in the USA after the Second World War, led to his loyalty being questioned and ultimately to the withdrawal of his security clearance. Although other biographers have described Oppenheimer's personal life, Monk's unique contribution is to put his scientific work at the centre of the book; hence the title. Anyone who is interested in science, and who wants to appreciate its central place in our society, would enjoy this book. But note: it is nearly 800 pages long, counting the references, so it is not a quick read. I read it over Christmas and am about to read it again.
This is going to sound so geeky, but you might enjoy reading about how they designed drainage systems, how Bazelgette (sp?) had such an innovation. How it's moved from combined drains to upgrading to entities that equate a 1 in 20 year storm for rainwater, then the sewerage part. You learn about how they calculate water going through a pipe, how changes in size, going from large diameter to small and back again works.
There's also SUDs which you find a lot of new building sites using, to mitigate run off, collecting water in balancing lakes, so it slowly permeates the ground again.
It's a really interesting subject, plus you get to see how innovations have changed drainage. How pluvial flooding is a thing. How they're trying to mitigate combined sewerage outlets pumping waste into rivers after / during a storm, thus polluting a river.
It'll make you thing twice before dumping oil etc down the drain.
Do you have any titles to recommend SparklyFairyDust - that sounds really interesting. Geeky in all the very best ways.
I also feel a bit ungrateful for saying this, but although the biographies recommended sound excellent, apart from the Turing one I will probably leave them for later. At the moment I feel a bit suffocated by lots of Histories of Great Men - I kinda want the pure escapism of the fun of learning new stuff if you see what I mean, rather than lots of reminders that women aren't terribly welcome in science/tech.
If you want to balance that a little glitter, there's a really excellent biography of Dorothy Hodgkin by Georgina Ferry (which includes plenty about the science).
There's a few really interesting books, study wise we had this bit pricey, we had the Butler version which comes as an ebook. I might still have a copy. There's also journals on it via google scholar.
Personally I got this to understand what the main Engineer was thinking and how his ideas developed:
This one is just Engineering / Architectural marvels:_
Not that it's doable really, this is about going off the grid geek heaven:
Whoah - thanks SparklyFairyDust ! Wow. Think I might need to investigate inter-library loans for some of those. The area I live in used to be prone to flooding before some absolutely massive storm drains were built (many many years ago) so knowing a bit more sounds very intriguing...
Another interesting subject then would be how they use data from past flood events such as flow and depth to map out flood risk areas. The models themselves cost in the region of £30/40k as they're usually done externally.
I'll PM you as I've got a book on what is basically river rehabilitation, so in times past when a rivers course was in the way, they would pretty much build a new water course to divert it, or in the case of towns and cities, they would culvert a lot of a river and make it mechanical pretty much.
Being geeky I followed a few schemes that were / are being done. The Jubilee River near London way is amusing as an engineering botch up, as by creating a diversion a bit like a balancing pond, but not a balancing pond, they created a whole new flood risk that never existed. Cities like Birmingham have the River Rea, where the majority of the time it's a trickle, but during storms can be 15ft in depth. That's a mechanical channel with tall buildings either side. The bed is actual concrete, so little opportunities for biodiversity. In Birmingham there's an old factory that was used for building industrial units and homes. They opened up the culvert, or proposed to, rehabilitating the river to a more natural environment.
A lot of the engineers who had the idea you could make water run where you want, discovered that you had to pretty much use concrete in order to do this.
Another area of interest you could really get into is how there was/is legislation under a document Making Space for Water, so areas that typically flooded, you wouldn't build on, but some how such developments get the goahead. There's no such thing of creating defences in one area and the problem is solved, you need intense engineering to ensure you don't push the water elsewhere, creating a new flood risk.
Cumbria / Lake District is quite interesting, as is Cornwall/Devon. More so the later plus East Coast as it's tidal, so if you get a centralised storm with spring tides you have a nightmare on your hands.
If nature / biodiversity / geomorphology is an interest, from the Bristol Channel down is geologically interesting due to how the sea/rivers affect the land with say salt marshes, mud flats. How they're developed. How the rock in the area can play a big role, where to go fossil hunting etc. Boscastle is a good example, how a simple storm can cause havoc.
Sorry it's an area of interest if you can't tell.
It's an industry that is worth millions.
Things like building defences, how bunds work, how that wall that protects an area can be so much more than a wall. So piling is needed depending on soil type. Same with constructing near to water courses. The water table. The difference between salt water and fresh water. On the River Severn & Trent you see a phenomenon where at certain times of the year you get tidal bores, people surfing up stream.
I'll stop there in case I'm boring you.
It's not so much a "working out with a pen and paper" book, but I enjoyed "17 equations that changed the world"
Pure Maths - Summing It Up: From One Plus One to Modern Number Theory
Theoretical Physics - The Theoretical Minimum, Susskind
Two excellent books - both need slow reading with pencil & paper. Accessible but not dumbed down.
And if computer science counts, Quantum Computing since Democritus is a great read. Very informal, lots of interesting asides.
Join the discussion
Please login first.