Books on modern physics for the layman

I’ve always been fascinated by modern physics, but too often explanations in physics books either (a) give simplified explanations that don’t hold up under closer scrutiny, or (b) use so much specialized vocabulary and mathematics that they might as well be in Greek. The following four books are the ones I’ve found to be well-written exceptions:

  • The Einstein Paradox, and other science mysteries solved by Sherlock Holmes, by Colin Bruce, Perseus Books, 1997. Bruce presents 12 new short stories staring Sherlock Holmes as he solves cases that loosely follow the progress of physics through the last century, from a case of a mysterious sniper on a train (explaining Einstein’s Relativity) to one of the best descriptions of the EPR paradox I’ve seen in a case involving gambling fraud.

  • QED: The Strange Thory of Light and Matter, by Richard Feynman, Princeton University Press, 1985. Feynman was a brilliant teacher as well as physicist, and here he beautifully explains quantum electrodynamics, the theory that won him a Nobel prize. Based on a series of lectures he gave at UCLA that were designed specifically for a nontechnical audience.

  • In Search of Schroginger’s Cat and the sequel Schrodinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality: Solving the Quantum Mysteries, both by John Gribbin (1984 and 1995). While I didn’t get quite as much understanding out of these books as I did from the first two I listed (there was a bit too much hand-waving for my taste), they still lay a good foundation and cover a wide field of the bizarreness that is quantum physics.