Best Physics in the world
By Margaret Harris and Tushna Commissariat
The year 2016 has not covered itself in glory. Divisive elections, various natural and human-made disasters and a depressingly long obituary roll of well-loved celebrities mean that for many residents of planet Earth, this solar orbit has been one to forget.
But if, for a moment, we concentrate solely on the year in physics, the picture looks brighter. In particular, it’s been another strong year for popular-physics writing, and over the past few weeks, we have been determining which of the 57 books reviewed in Physics World in 2016 deserve to be on our list of the year’s best.
The books that appear on the shortlist below are all well written, novel and scientifically interesting to physicists – the criteria we’ve followed since 2009, when The Strangest Man, Graham Farmelo’s landmark biography of Paul Dirac, became our first “Book of the Year”. A couple of biographies appear on our 2016 shortlist, too, but they face stiff competition from books on big science, stringy science, loopy science, spooky science, jazzy science and more. There’s even a book of science infographics in the running – a first for a competition that is, naturally, dominated by words rather than images.
We’ll announce the winner of our “Book of the Year” award in the Physics World podcast in mid-December, but in the meantime, take a look at the shortlist. We think it’s proof, if you needed any, that the year 2016 had some redeeming features after all.
At first glance, physics and music may not seem the most obvious of bedfellows, but these seemingly disparate fields have much in common. Part-time saxophonist and full-time theoretical cosmologist Stephon Alexander is especially well placed to comment on both and link the two together. Indeed, his book promises to reveal “the secret link between music and the structure of the universe”. Interwoven with solid physics and personal anecdotes, the book does a admirable job of bringing together modern jazz and modern physics.