• "The Whole-Brain Child" by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson - one of those books that smears a handful of good ideas over two hundred pages. The "scientific" angle the authors try to take is, IMHO somewhat light on real hard science - most of it is just in the realm of naturally intuitive ideas and pop-culture stereotypes (the whole right-brain vs. left-brain issue, for example). That said, even though most of the book is Tony Robbins-style general feel-good advice, there are a few interesting suggestions in it that are worth reading the book for.
  • "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene - an information packed whirlwind through modern physics. On the textbook-to-pop science line, this books lays much farther ahead from pop science than other similar books, such as those by Simon Singh, by delving much deeper into the details. I particularly enjoyed Greene's explanation of special relativity and the second law of thermodynamics. OTOH, the explanation of entanglement and Bell's theorem could be a bit better (though I'll admit I don't know if that's possible without getting into real math). On the average the book is very good, though. I enjoyed the last part of the book somewhat less - as soon as things get into string theory and even stranger theories (branes, holograms, etc) they become almost impossible to understand intuitively, because they don't represent anything human intuition can grasp. Greene admits that these theories are usually studied through their mathematical equations because none of their physics is obvious (they're not even experimentally tested yet).
  • "Particle Physics for Non-Physicists" by Steven Pollock (audio course) - a laymen overview of particle physics, focusing on the history of discovering the particle zoo that currently comprises the standard model. This is somewhat more advanced than the other "introductory" modern physics courses I've heard so far, and as such I also feel it approaches the limit of what can be effectively taught in such a course for laymen. The topic of particle physics is super complex, and explaining it without extensive math is challenging. In an audio setting, explaining it without using any visual aids like diagrams and drawings is even more challenging. So don't expect to learn much beyond a very trivial glimpse of the subject from here. That said, the course is well put and the lecturer is good, so it's not a bad use of one's time. It definitely does a decent job of putting all the possible particles in some order and explain their main characteristics and how (and why) they were discovered.
  • "The Martian" by Andy Weir - what a great book! A Mars exploration mission goes wrong and an astronaut is left stranded on the desolate red planet for many months. Science fiction at its best, IMHO, is one that's at least somewhat plausible. It's what really incites imagination - things that could actually happen in the not-too-far future. I think this book is particularly fun for engineers who like to do back-of-the-envelope computations and get excited by duct-tape-and-zipties creative solutions to problems (a-la MacGyver). One of my favorite childhood books was The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. "The Martian" is finally something to match it, but transported onto a much more modern setting.
  • "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution" by Richard Wolfson (audio course) - a tour through modern physics for non-scientists. As is usual with such books/courses, the simpler topics in the beginning get a thorough treatment, while the more complex topics later on get mostly skimmed. That said, one can't expect to get a good understanding of all of modern physics from a single course (truly, a whole physics degree is needed for that). Overall, I liked the course - prof. Wolfson is pretty good at explaining things, and I found his explanation of special relativity interesting and easy to follow. It's a shame the last few lectures are in sprint-mode, covering important topics like particle physics only on a very superficial story-telling level. I'd gladly hear more in-depth lectures from prof. Wolfson on these topics.
  • "Coding the Matrix - Linear Algebra through Computer Science applications" by Philip N. Klein - an introduction to linear algebra with emphasis on implementing its fundamental algorithms (in Python). This book is a companion to a Coursera course by the same author. Even though it's an application-oriented book, it doesn't give up rigor and most of the propositions are proven. Also, the computation angle is nice and unusual for a math textbook. However, as a standalone book (I didn't take the course) it's lacking, IMHO. I found it poorly organized and overly verbose. Also, the formatting is terrible - the book seems to be some sort of self-printing, it's basically A4 pages glued together (too tall to fit on my bookshelf!). The diagrams are often unintelligible, and code samples sometimes run off their boxes. The author's over-use of list comprehensions in Python doesn't help in this aspect :-) This being the first edition and the author's maintaining a large errata, I believe many of these problems will be fixed in future editions. To conclude, while the book's practical aspect makes it an interesting addition to one's bookshelf, I wouldn't recommend it for self-study.
  • "What is Relativity" by Jeffrey Bennett - A layman's explanation of the theory of relativity, split about half-half between special and general relativity. While the book isn't bad, I didn't find it particularly great either. Some parts of the explanation on special relativity are lacking (for example, length contraction if pretty badly explained), and the general relativity part is too handwavy. I realize it's not easy to explain GR without diving into the heavy math involved, but I expected more.


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