Skip to main content

Best physics books: Change the way you look at the universe

Best physics books- Person reading book surrounded by equations. metamorworks via Shutterstock
(Image credit: metamorworks via Shutterstock)

What is our place in the universe? How do we explain what happens around us? These are big questions to ask on our quest to understand the complexities of physics and the universe. That’s why we’ve curated this round up of the best physics books to gain a deeper understanding from the top authors in the field.

Physics can be a dense and detailed study, with complicated theories and exploration of ideas that can be difficult for anyone to fully comprehend. They explain these concepts in ways that are approachable and will continue your journey of understanding our physical world.

We’ve collected the best physics books written by some of the world’s most renowned scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, and Richard Feynman. These are the books that break down complicated matters to simple, easy-to-read concepts, get to the heart of the matter quickly without getting lost in the details, and entertain you along the way with their humor and personal stories. 

If you want to discover anything from the origins of physics through to its evolution into the modern century, these are the best physics books to add to your library for all levels of enthusiasts to expand your thinking and knowledge of the way our world works.

If you're looking for physics books that specifically deal with the cosmos, then you can check out our guide to the best astronomy books.


The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

(Image credit: Brian Greene)

1. The Elegant Universe

Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

Specifications

Price: $11.59 (paperback, new)
Author: Brian Greene
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Release date: October 11, 2010

Reasons to buy

+
Expertly organized
+
Uses relatable analogies
+
Complex topics accessible for those without a scientific background

Reasons to avoid

-
Later chapters can grow in complexity and may seem daunting

Written by one of the world’s most renowned string theorists, The Elegant Universe takes complex topics and makes them easily accessible to any reader – with or without a science background! Greene creates an impactful and visual reading experience as he navigates through the mysteries of the universe. This international bestseller inspired a major Nova special and leans into Green’s expertise in superstring theory. 

The Elegant Universe brings thoughtful discussion surrounding special relativity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics, paving the way towards an explanation of all forces and matter. Simple analogies and footnotes break down heavier topics with a dash of humor. Readers will be delighted by the approachable way in which Greene ties in string theory to help our understanding of the vast universe.


The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman

(Image credit: Richard P. Feynman)

2. The Feynman Lectures on Physics (box set)

The New Millennium Edition

Specifications

Price: $115.99 (hardcover, new)
Author: Richard P. Feynman
Publisher: Basic Books
Release date: January 4, 2011

Reasons to buy

+
World's greatest lectures still used in universities today
+
Approachable intro for those interested in the foundations of physics

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive, but they are hardcovers

Unmissable content for any student – and those eager to learn more about this expansive field – who wants a foundational introduction to physics written by beloved Nobel laureate, Richard P. Feynman. The Feynman Lectures on Physics is a collection of his most profound lectures, reprinted and corrected in collaboration with CalTech. Inside this three-book box set, you’ll find the basic principles of Newtonian physics through more complex topics such as general relativity, quantum mechanics, and beyond. 

Feynman's lectures are accessible without sacrificing relevant information. His passion is evident throughout the pages, never shying away from asking the tougher questions and challenging his audience to expand their thinking. This is a box set designed for each generation, setting up the future for emerging scientists.


Quantum Mechanics The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind & Art Friedman

(Image credit: Leonard Susskind & Art Friedman)

3. Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum (illustrated edition)

What you need to know to start doing physics

Specifications

Price: $16.33 (paperback, new)
Author: Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman
Publisher: Basic Books
Release date: May 12, 2015

Reasons to buy

+
Clear presentation of the inner workings of quantum physics
+
Includes step-by-step exercises

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires some prior mathematical knowledge
-
Need to read first book to better understand this one

Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum is the second book in the Theoretical Minimum series. If you’re a reader with some knowledge of linear algebra and calculus who wants to dive deeper into the world of quantum mechanics, this is for you. Susskind and Friedman make it easy to follow along with the subject matter, getting to logical explanations quickly. Susskind deploys notations in earnest, condensing information into manageable symbols. 

It’ll get you thinking about the information differently, trying out a new way to speculate and approach complicated topics. This book will connect the dots, build the bridges between each concept presented, and explain all the core ideas of theory coherently.


Thirty Years that Shook Physics The Story of Quantum Theory by George Gamow

(Image credit: George Gamow)

4. Thirty Years that Shook Physics

The story of quantum theory

Specifications

Price: $12.59 (paperback, new)
Author: George Gamow
Publisher: Dover Publications, Inc
Release date: July 1, 1985

Reasons to buy

+
Accounts of personal interactions with all the science greats
+
Interesting look into the history of science and quantum physics

Reasons to avoid

-
To get the best out of the theories in this book you'll need a good grasp of maths

Gamow possesses an engaging, entertaining way of presenting the very basics of quantum physics and its progression over the span of three decades. As Gamow was personally acquainted with the scientists presented in this book – Bohr, Pauli, Dirac, and Heisenberg… just to name a few – the result is a level of humanity and personality behind the origins of some of physics' most complex theories and equations. 

This is a book about how science has changed and developed in the last century, and Gamow writes this in a way that is accessible to a general audience. Covering prominent events between 1900-1930, you’ll get the inside story on the course that shaped modern physics.


A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

(Image credit: Stephen Hawking)

5. A Brief History of Time

Specifications

Price: $7.99 (paperback, new)
Author: Stephen Hawking
Publisher: Bantam
Release date: September 1, 1998

Reasons to buy

+
Filled with images and useful definitions
+
Short, quick read
+
Uses basic terminology and avoids over-complicated info dumps

Reasons to avoid

-
Deeper theories require prior physics knowledge to fully appreciate

Written by the late Stephen Hawking – one of the most renowned scientists of this century – A Brief History of Time delves into topics such as black holes, wormholes, uncertainty principle, space and time, expansion of the universe, time travel, and so much more. 

Hawking manages to be accessible, while still speaking to those with years of scientific experience under their belts. It’s quick and to the point, providing clarity around some of the most complex mechanics of how our universe works. Logically organized, humorous at times, and immersive, you’ll be taken on a journey that spans from our world’s earliest astronomers to the latest on the future of the universe.


Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

(Image credit: Carlo Rovelli)

6. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Specifications

Price: $12.00 (paperback, new)
Author: Carlo Rovelli
Publisher: Penguin
Release date: January 1, 2012

Reasons to buy

+
Short (only 7 chapters)
+
Perfect for those interested in the foundations of physics

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be dense in some areas
-
Hard to find

Carlo Rovelli is a widely respected and renowned theoretical physicist who introduces you to the modern world of physics. It’s a short book, with the paperback only coming in at 81 pages, but it’s packed with playful and entertaining takes on our world and the role we play in it. Moving quickly through Einstein’s general relativity, quantum mechanics, and other complexities of our known universe, Seven Brief Lessons outlines how physics arrived to where it is now. 

Written confidently and in a way that is accessible to any reader, the intricacies of this book is written with vivid clarity. Beautifully written, and almost lyrical in its presentation of Newton, Bohr, and Einstein, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is not one to miss.


Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

(Image credit: Michio Kaku)

7. Physics of the Impossible

A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel

Specifications

Price: $29.82 (hardcover, new)
Author: Michio Kaku
Publisher: Doubleday
Release date: March 11, 2008

Reasons to buy

+
Perfect for sci-fi fans
+
Humorous undertones

Reasons to avoid

-
Some feel this book is more fantastical rather than focusing on the actual physics

Fans of pop culture will delight in the insights presented in this engaging and humorous book. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and bestselling author, explores the possibilities of teleportation, force fields, interstellar spaceships, and other future technologies you’ve seen only in science fiction. Are they truly as impossible to achieve as it seems? 

In this informative yet widely imaginative look at the universe and the laws of physics, the very topic of scientific possibility is on full display. Kaku looks into the several branches of physics – from Newtonian mechanics up to relativity and quantum mechanisms of the 20th century. Sci-fi technologies are broken down into accessible ideas as Kaku explores the possibilities of building starships, time travel, and invisibility.


Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

(Image credit: Neil deGrasse Tyson)

8. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Specifications

Price: $9.49 (hardcover, new)
Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Release date: May 2, 2017

Reasons to buy

+
Clear, concise introduction
+
Shorter page count

Reasons to avoid

-
Need some knowledge on particles and space to fully appreciate

Famous for popularizing science with his other works, Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist presenting another engaging question for his audience: How do we fit within the universe? Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is exactly what the name promises – this is for readers who want simplified, understandable, and manageable information on the nature of space and time. 

Tyson’s passion and wit leap off the page as he guides through the concepts of the forces that make up our universe. A short, palpable read for those who want something easy to digest in one or two sittings. This is an easy, fun-to-read book that will get you thinking about the world around you.


Cosmos by Carl Sagan

(Image credit: Carl Sagan)

9. Cosmos

Specifications

Price: $17.12 (paperback, new)
Author: Carl Sagan
Publisher: Time Warner Books UK
Release date: August 1, 1983

Reasons to buy

+
Illustrated chapters
+
Beautiful, elegant prose
+
Runs parallel with the Cosmos television series

Reasons to avoid

-
Scientific vocab might be difficult to keep pace with

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is a treat for the eyes with its illustrated chapters. Not only that, The Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, is a 13-part television series meant to accompany the book as you’re taken along a journey through cosmic evolution. Covering a wide variety of topics – from the astronomical to the historical – Cosmos will trigger a deeper way of thinking about our existence and our roles in the universe. 

This is for the endlessly curious and those who want to know how we came to be and where we’re headed. Sagan makes the complex simple, while never losing the grand scale and drama that is the nature of the cosmos.


In Search of Schrodinger's Cat Quantum Physics and Reality by John Gribbin

(Image credit: John Gribbin)

10. In Search of Schrodinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality

Specifications

Price: $18 (paperback, new)
Author: John Gribbin
Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition
Release date: August 1, 1984

Reasons to buy

+
Considered one of the more accessible books on quantum mechanics 
+
Historical with a clean approach to the concepts behind quantum physics 
+
Presents how the idea of Schrodinger’s Cat came to be  

Reasons to avoid

-
While written in the ‘80s, many of the original concepts still held up even with the passing of time

John Gribbin tells the story of how Schrodinger’s Cat came to be - of how quantum mechanics emerged. With a thorough look at the scientists who developed quantum theory, Gribbin explores topics such as radiation, time travel, and the birth of life. This is a delightful, thought-provoking introduction to quantum physics. Gribbin makes a complicated topic easily accessible for the average reader. This is perfect for those we want to confront the understanding of how the world works. 

In Search of Schrodinger's Cat is a scientific lesson in quantum physics without feeling like you’re reading from a textbook. Extensive and well-written, you’ll be presented with a modern view of quantum physics without feeling overwhelmed. 

Megan Kachigan is freelance writer from Southern California. She holds a Masters in Education from Providence College and has a Bachelor's degree in Physics and Philosophy the University of San Diego. After teaching high school physics for 10 years, she now writes for STEM education and B2B Marketing companies.