Investigating Physics

Since the fields are so closely related, a lot of people who study math also end up studying at least a little bit of physics. I always wanted to take a physics class when I was an undergrad, but I never had time, so I have been trying to pick up little bits by reading science books. I thought it might be fun to talk a little about some different physics books I’ve read, and see if anyone has any particular favorites to suggest.

How To Teach Physics To Your Dog, by Chad Orzel, is a popular science book dealing with quantum physics. The premise of the book is that Orzel explains physics concepts with the help of metaphors from a dog’s frame of reference—chasing Frisbees, devious rabbits, etc.—thus making them more accessible to humans. Unfortunately, this gimmick, while cute, isn’t very helpful. A lot of the concepts were over my head, and the dog-centric metaphors often oversimplified them to the point of actually making them more confusing.

How The Universe Got Its Spots, by Janna Levin, deals with astrophysics and the shape of the universe. It’s not a traditional pop sci book in that it is also a memoir of sorts, a letter to the author’s mother. Levin alternates between coaching the reader through more basic physics concepts leading up to discussions of the topology of the universe, and meditating on her own life and what it’s like for her to be both a physicist and a person. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but I thought the intersection of science and the personal narrative was pretty interesting.

The Theoretical Minimum, by Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky, is a tricky book to explain. It’s not really clear whether it is meant to cover the material of a first mechanics course, as the inside cover suggests, or whether it’s intended for a more advanced reader. It spends nearly a third of its time covering very basic calculus, and then moves on to what my brother, who knows more about physics than I do, describes as “the theory of mechanics, without applications.” I had a very hard time making sense of this more theoretical portion of the book, as the last time I saw introductory mechanics was in the eleventh grade and I was hoping to use this book to review it, rather than to go straight to theory.

Most recently, I’ve started reading Richard Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces, but if anyone has suggestions for books that are rigorous yet accessible, I would love to hear about them!

About Maya Sharma

Maya Sharma is studying for her MS in mathematics at Loyola University Chicago.
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