What's the Matterrecommended book list

by Steve Bryson

A large selection of books giving a popular account of quantumtheory and particle physics is currently available . In this booklist I am describing books that I feel give the fairest treatmentof our subject. In any subject as controversial as quantum theorypersonal prejudices are going to show. I have my favorites and myfriends have other favorites. Many good books are not mentioned,and there are many not so good books that are also not mentioned.

With three exceptions, Inward Bound, Constructing Quarks andThe Ideas of Particle Physics, all of these books are accessibleto someone with no technical background. Typically these booksare not light reading, however.

There are two distinctions that I wish to draw among thebooks. First there are those books that talk about particlephysics and those that talk about quantum mechanics. Though thesetwo subjects are very intertwined, they are typically treatedseparately. The other distinction is between those books thattalk just about the physics (or metaphysics) of quantum theory,and those that talk about the implications of these theories forthe rest of our lives. I feel that these distinctions will beuseful to you as you choose what books you may want to read.

Good places to find these books include: Cody's (new), ASUC(new), Moe's (used), Pegasus (used), Half-Priced Books (used),and Black Oak (new and used) in Berkeley; Stacy's (new) and AClean Well Lighted Place for Books (new) in San Francisco; AClean Well Lighted Place for Books (new) in Larkspur; and Stacy's(new), Printer's Inc. (new), and The Stanford Bookstore (new) inPalo Alto.

Books describing particle physics:

From Atoms to Quarks: An Introduction to the Strange Worldof Particle Physics by Judith Peatross and James Trefil,Anchor Books 1994. $12.95 in paperback.

A very good looking introduction to particle physics via bothan historical and conceptual perspective. I have not read it butit looks very accessable and enjoyable.

Superforce by Paul Davies, Simon and Schuster 1984.$16.95 in hardcover, also available in paperback

My all time favorite survey of quantum mechanics, particletheory, forces between particles and unification. Clear, easyreading by an active researcher in the field. If you read justone book in this subject make it this one.

Story of the W and Z by Peter Watkins, CambridgeUniversity Press 1986, $13.95 in paperback

This book seems to be the closest thing to a textbook for thisclass. Summarizes the current theories and technologies,climaxing with the discovery of the W and Z bosons at CERN thusspectacularly verifying the Standard Model of particle physics.Seems to be thorough and readable, which is an impressivecombination.

The Particle Hunters by Yuval Ne'eman and Yoram Kirsh,Cambridge University Press 1983, $13.95 in paperback

A straightforward description of particle processes anddetection by two prominent working physicists. Seems to bemoderately dry and demanding but goes into details of particlereactions that I have not found elsewhere in the popularliterature.

The Particle Explosion by Frank Close, Michael Martin,and Christine Sutton, 1987, $35.00 in hardcover

A big, beautiful book full of color pictures. Primarilyhistorical in perspective, this book would be good easy readingfor anyone who just wants to hear about all the success inparticle physics over the years. Well worth the high price.

QED by Richard Feynman, Princeton University Press1985, $18.50 in hardcover, also available in paperback

A description of the simplest version of the successful gaugetheories of the forces of nature (Quantum ElectroDynamics or thetheory of the interaction of light with matter) by one of the menwho invented it. The approach that is taken here is somewhatunconventional and so would be good as another perspective. I'vebeen told, however, that this book is rather difficult to read.

Interactions by Sheldon L. Glashow (with Ben Bova),Warner Books 1988, $12.95 in paperback

An introduction to particle physics, from an historicalperspective, by one of the inventors of the Standard Model ofelementary particle physics. Full of figures and metaphorsrelating difficult concepts to everyday life. Told from acharming personal point of view, with many anecdotes aboutparticle physicists.

From X-Rays to Quarks by Emilio Segre, Freeman and Co.,1980. $10.95 in paperback.

An historical survey of all of particle physics by someone whowas there for most of it (Segre won (with Owen Chamberlain) theNobel prize for the discovery of the anti-proton). A little dry,it is a very complete book describing particle physics from theinside.

Nobel Dreams by Gary Taubes, Random House 1986, $19.95in hardcover

An Excellent account of a (the?) major particle experiment:the search for the W and Z bosons. Unlike the book Story of the Wand Z mentioned above, however, this book is written by ajournalist who lived with the physicists involved during thedevelopment and running of the experiment. Gives an accurate indepth story of the particle physics community from a very humanperspective. Tells of the successful W and Z search, then theunsuccessful search for supersymmetry. Cannot be recommended toohighly, especially if you want to know what it is like to be aparticle physicist.

Dreams of a Final Theory by Steven Weinberg, PantheonBooks 1992, $25.00 in hardcover

A very heartfelt and high-level discussion of why physicistsare studying elementary particles by one of the inventors of theStandard Model of elementary particle physics. More philosophicalthan technical in nature, Weinberg discusses the motives andmethodology behind the presumption that the study of elementaryparticles will help us understand nature as a whole. There isvery little in the way of descriptions of the details ofparticular theories, but this book offers the general public aunique perspective on how and why theories are produced. Veryreadable and highly recommended as a supplement to one of themore detail oriented books described above.

The Discovery of Subatomic Particles by StevenWeinberg, W. H. Freeman and Co. 1984, $32.95 in hardcover

The story of the discovery of subatomic particles with manypictures and diagrams. One of the Scientific American Libraryseries.

The next three books are a little technical, though you mayenjoy reading around the equations--Recommended only if youeither already have a technical background or at the end of thiscourse you have understood everything I've said.

Inward Bound by Abraham Pais, Oxford University Press,1986. $17.95 in paperback.

A readable, human but at times very technical history of allof particle physics from the discovery of X-rays andradioactivity to modern times. Pais is a physicist who wasinstrumental in the maturing of modern quantum field theory inthe 50's and 60's. The history of the pre-1950 period (which isbefore Pais became an active physicist) is wonderfully readable,but when Pais gets to the period of his own professional activitythe book suddenly shifts into high gear and gets very dense withtechnical information. The first half of the book is recommendedfor anyone who does not mind reading around an occasionalequation.

Constructing Quarks by Andrew Pickering, University ofChicago Press, 1984. $30.00 in hardcover, also available inpaperback

A detailed, scholarly, semi-technical history of modernparticle physics and field theory. Following the initial downfalland subsequent emergence of gauge theory as the dominant view ofphysics, Pickering reveals in great detail the social andintellectual struggles in the physics community during the 60'sand 70's. Though Pickering makes some effort to introducetechnical concepts this book would be rather frustrating forsomeone with no background. Once we have finished this course,however, this book would give a rewarding glimpse into the realworld of physics. To be found in college bookstores, i.e. inBerkeley.

The Ideas of Particle Physics by J. E. Dodd, CambridgeUniversity Press 1984, $17.95 in paperback

Subtitled 'An Introduction for Scientists', this book is fornon-physicists who are technically trained in some other hardscience and are curious about particle physics. Basically aseries of short, concise descriptions of the concepts behind thetheories in particle physics, with lots of diagrams.

Books describing Quantum physics:

The Quantum Universe by Tony Hey and Patrick Walters,Cambridge University Press 1987, $16.95 in paperback

A beautiful, down to earth book describing the discoveries andapplications of quantum mechanics. Full of pictures (many incolor), this book should be read by anyone who needs grounding onjust where quantum mechanics fits into our lives.

Other Worlds by Paul Davies, Simon and Schuster 1980.$11.95 in paperback.

Another excellent book by Davies that concentrates on themetaphysical implications of quantum mechanics. A very balancedand accurate account of the controversies surrounding quantummechanics without any of the emotionalism that you find in otherbooks.

The Ghost in the Atom edited by Paul Davies and J. R.Brown, Cambridge University Press 1986, $9.95 in paperback

A wonderful little collection of interviews with physicists(John Wheeler, John Bell, David Bohm, etc.) who have beeninstrumental in the development of the controversies surroundingquantum mechanics. Very good for getting various points of viewfrom the original proponents.

Actually, just about anything by Davies is very good (though Ihad a little trouble with Davies' attitude towards religion inGod and the New Physics). Davies is my favorite science author ofboth popular and technical books.

Causality and Chance in Modern Physics by David Bohm,University of Penn. Press, 1957. In paperback.

A thorough and deep discussion of the role of probability inquantum mechanics and the development of hidden variabletheories. Bohm invented the first workable hidden variable theoryabout the time he wrote this book. Actually a little out of date,predating the work by Bell and others discussing hiddenvariables, this book will give a good understanding of theproblems of interpreting quantum mechanics.

Any book by Bohm is worth reading, though he has latelywritten more about philosophy and metaphysics than physics. Justknow what you are picking up.

Taking the Quantum Leap by Fred Alan Wolf, Harper andRow, 1981. $10.95 in paperback.

A playful, more up to date version of the above book. Withoutpulling any punches, Wolf surveys the various interpretations ofquantum theory. The discussions of the problems and proposedsolutions are clear and lucid. I have trouble with Wolf, however,as he has the habit introducing very problematical ideas to thereader as if they were accepted truth. Still worth reading, justkeep in a skeptical frame of mind (i.e. read something else inaddition).

Though I have not had a chance to look at it, I am told thatIn Search of Schroedinger's Cat by John Gribbon is a goodstraightforward description of quantum mechanics. (Do not confusethis with Schroedinger's Cat by Robert Anton Wilson!)


Books about the metaphysical implications

The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, Shambhala Press,1977. In paperback.

The book that could be said to have started the popularinterest in the metaphysics of quantum mechanics. In this bookCapra describes how many of the discoveries in modern physicsseem to have been anticipated by the writings of far easternphilosophies and religions. I do not feel that Capra succeeds inexploring the metaphysical implications of quantum mechanics,however. First, this book is more a comparative religions essaythan an exploration. Secondly, much of what Capra says about thephysics is based on a theory of elementary particles that hassince been replaced. There is much here worth reading but thereis also much that most physicists these days would not say iscorrect.

The next two books fit much more into my picture ofexplorations of the metaphysics of quantum mechanics.

Einstein's Space and Van Gogh's Sky by Lawrence Leshanand Henry Margenau, Collier Books, 1982. $6.95 in paperback.

This remarkable book is the product of a collaboration betweena research psychologist and an important physicist in the historyof Quantum Theory. After a rather open minded and sophisticateddiscussion of the philosophies of science and knowledge, theybring the new world views of physics into the realms ofsociology, art, etc. Not really an introduction to the physics,it should be read once you already know something about quantummechanics.

Fabric of the Universe by Denis Postle, Crown Books1976, in paperback.

For the very open minded reader, this book will totallyimmerse you in the alternate world views brought about by takingquantum mechanics and particle physics literally. Postle thengoes on to give a flowing, totally non-intellectual account ofwhat modern physics and eastern philosophies share. Full ofwonderful pictures and drawings, you will learn quite a lot ofphysics here from a very concise source. Though written at a timewhen particle physics was just starting to sort itself out,Postle concentrated on those ideas that have since beenvindicated as the current model for how the world works.

Again, this does not pretend to be an exhaustive list. Thereare many good books not listed here.

Back to What'sthe Matter?

Back to Steve's home page