Books

Here are some of the books I've used as references in learning physics. Most of them should still be available from your favourite bookseller, although unfortunately many of them are quite expensive.

Electrodynamics
  1. Introduction to Electrodynamics, 4th Edition; David J. Griffiths, (2017) Cambridge University Press. I haven't used the latest edition (mine is the third edition, published by Prentice-Hall), but I'd imagine the general approach would be much the same. A good introductory text, covering the topics in the usual order. It starts with electrostatics and progresses through magnetostatics, time-varying fields, Maxwell's equations, radiation and electromagnetic waves, concluding with a chapter on special relativity and its application to electrodynamics.
  2. Electricity and Magnetism, Teruo Matsushita, (2014), Springer. Also a good introductory text. It covers much the same ground as Griffiths's book, at about the same level. Lots of worked examples, along with exercises for the reader.
  3. Classical Electrodynamics, 3rd edition, John David Jackson (1998), Wiley. A much more advanced book, suitable for graduate-level study. Many derivations are left to the reader. It's generally regarded as a classic in the field, though, so worth having as a reference.
  4. Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard P. Feynman, (2010, although the notes are based on lectures given in the 1960s). Volume 2 is on electrodynamics, and covers the subject in Feynman's inimitable style, so it's worth a read for some insights into the subject.

Quantum mechanics
  1. Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, David J. Griffiths & Darrell F. Schroeter, Third Edition (2018) Cambridge University Press. I haven't used the latest edition (mine is the second edition, published by Pearson), but I'd imagine the general approach would be much the same. A good introductory text, although it contains no background on where the Schrodinger equation comes from, and stops short of much of the theory (such as unitary operators) you need to progress to quantum field theory.
  2. Principles of Quantum Mechanics, Ramamurti Shankar, Second Edition (1994), Springer. Introduces quantum mechanics at a somewhat higher level than Griffiths, but is still suitable as a first book on the subject. It covers several topics not mentioned in Griffiths, such as unitary operators, path integrals and the Dirac equation. Recommended as background for someone wishing to progress to quantum field theory.
  3. Introductory Quantum Mechanics, Paul R. Berman (2018), Springer. About the same level as Shankar's book. Contains a lot of useful background on the foundations of quantum theory as well as covering the usual topics in an introductory book.
  4. Quantum Mechanics: Non-Relativistic Theory, L.D. Landau & E.M. Lifshitz, Third Edition (1981), Butterworth-Heinemann. Volume 3 of the classic 'Course of Theoretical Physics'. A comprehensive book, although not for the faint-hearted. The printing quality is not the best, so it's sometimes difficult to make out the symbols in equations.
  5. Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard P. Feynman, (2010, although the notes are based on lectures given in the 1960s). Volume 3 is on quantum mechanics, and covers the subject in Feynman's inimitable style, so it isn't the normal order of things you might expect from more traditional texts. Still worth a read for some insights into the subject.
  6. Quantum Physics, a set of online courses from MIT, (courses last given in 2017 - 2018). This is a set of three courses on quantum mechanics with video lectures given by Barton Zwiebach, with exercises to be completed by students. Although the courses haven't been live for several years, all the materials are archived and provide an excellent resource. At the time of writing (May 2022), the courses are available on the MIT web site at: Quantum Physics I, Quantum Physics II and Quantum Physics III. Highly recommended.
Quantum field theory

Highly recommended

  1. Quantum Field Theory: Lectures of Sidney Coleman, Sidney Coleman (edited by Bryan Gin-ge et al; World Scientific, 2019) Easily the best book on QFT that I've looked at. At 1152 large-format pages, it's also probably the biggest book on QFT out there, but the space is used to good effect, in that detailed, clear explanations are given for virtually every concept. The chapters are essentially transcripts of Coleman's lectures that were given back in the 1970s, so more modern material may not be included. Coleman's lucid teaching style comes through admirably in the text. There are also numerous exercises for the reader, although none of these is exactly easy. However, detailed solutions are provided for all the exercises, so if you get stuck, help is at hand. If you buy only one book on QFT, this has to be the one.

Honourable mentions

  1. A First Book of Quantum Field Theory, Amitabha Lahiri & P. B. Pal Second Edition (Alpha Science International, 2004) The first of two honourable mentions, this book is also a good introduction to QFT. Most concepts and derivations are spelled out with enough detail. It's a reasonably short book, so you get to the meatier topics sooner than with Coleman's book. There are also numerous exercises that are considerably easier to solve than in Coleman's book, with answers (although not detailed solutions) to most of them.
  2. Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur, Tom Lancaster and Stephen J. Blundell (Oxford University Press, 2014) Another honourable mention, this book has a fairly relaxed writing style, and does explain most of the main concepts fairly well, although not as clearly as Coleman.
  3. A 2022 set of video lectures on QFT by Hitoshi Murayama is available as a YouTube playlist. The videos are pitched at an (advanced) undergraduate level, so should be accessible if you have a background in special relativity and non-relativistic quantum mechanics.
  4. Miscellaneous Topics in Quantum Field Theory, With Applications to Particle Physics, Stany M. Schrans (2021). Available as a free PDF here. This is not a published book, but is rather the author's notes that he made while working through standard textbooks. It would certainly qualify as a textbook, however, as it is truly massive (1761 pages!). Its main advantage is that it fills in many of the derivations that most textbooks skip over. I haven't delved too far into it, but it seems to be written at an advanced undergraduate level.

Other books. There are a great many books on QFT available, so there may well be some that deserve an honourable mention that I've not encountered. However, the following books seem to be the most popular, judging by the number of times I've seen references to them.

  1. Quantum Field Theory, Mark Srednicki (Cambridge University Press, 2007) I found this book to be not quite as approachable as the others above. It does have one huge benefit, however: it's available for free as a PDF from the author's web site here.
  2. The material is organized in bite-size chapters, with exercises at the end of each chapter.
  3. Student Friendly Quantum Field Theory, Robert D. Klauber, (Sandtrove Press, 2013) Despite the title, I found this book to be rather hard to follow. Although some derivations are explained in great detail, these tend to be the ones that the reader could work out for themselves. Other things aren't explained all that clearly.
  4. An Introduction to Quantum Field Theory, Michael E. Peskin & Daniel V. Schroeder, (Perseus Books, 1995) This book seems to be the book most often referenced. Although its coverage is encyclopedic, I wouldn't recommend it for a novice. Probably good to have on the shelf for reference, after you've gone through one of the other more basic books.
  5. Field Quantization, W. Greiner & J. Reinhardt, Springer-Verlag (1996) Greiner (sometimes in collaboration) has written a whole series of books on physics, sometimes referred to as the 'German Landau and Lifshitz' series. They're probably a bit too advanced for a first exposure to QFT, but the main advantage of Greiner's books is that he tends to spell out his mathematical derivations in great detail. If you're stuck on a derivation in another book, it's worth looking up that topic in Greiner.
  6. Relativistic Quantum Mechanics (Wave Equations) W. Greiner, 3rd Edition, Springer-Verlag (2000) Another in Greiner's series. Worth having as a reference.
  7. Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell, 2nd edition, Anthony Zee (Princeton University Press, 2010) Like Zee's book on relativity (see below), I found this one on QFT virtually impossible to follow. I've heard it said that it's good for explaining the concepts, but for me, if I can't follow the mathematical derivations, I can't really say that I understand the material. Zee tends to skip over the mathematical details, and his jokey writing style leads you to believe you're understanding something when you're really not. Maybe the book would be useful if you already know most of the theory, but as I don't, I can't really say.
Relativity

Most books on general relativity begin with a survey of special relativity.

  1. A General Relativity Workbook, Thomas A. Moore, University Science Books (2013). One of the most approachable books on special and general relativity. Written in an informal style. The 'workbook' aspect means there are numerous in-text exercises to do which help the reader get to grips with concepts before going on to more challenging problems.
  2. A Most Incomprehensible Thing, Second Edition (2014), Peter Collier, Incomprehensible Books. Although the title doesn't exactly instill confidence in the reader (it's a reference to Einstein's famous quote about the most incomprehensible thing about the universe being that it's comprehensible), this self-published book is very gentle in its pace. It assumes very little mathematical background, as the first chapter covers trigonometry, logarithms and calculus before moving on to the physics. It's not comprehensive, but it does introduce the reader to the main concepts in relativity, both special and general. The main drawback is that there are no problems for the reader to solve, although there are numerous solved problems in the text itself.
  3. A First Course in General Relativity, Second Edition, Bernard Schutz, Cambridge U. Press (2009). Suitable as an introductory book on both special and general relativity. Spells things out in detail, especially in the early chapters, and contains a large collection of problems for the reader to solve, ranging from almost trivial ones to much more substantial exercises. There is also an official Student's Manual to accompany the book, which contains solutions to many of the problems in the main text.
  4. Gravitation, Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne & John Archibald Wheeler, W.H. Freeman (1973). A monster of a book. Probably not the best first book on general relativity, although if you restrict yourself to the Track 1 material, it's not too hard to follow. I've heard it said that you can learn a lot about gravity just by carrying it around. It's even visible on Fox Mulder's bookshelf in episode 6:14 (Monday) of The X-Files.
  5. Introduction to Electrodynamics, 3rd Edition, (2007) David J. Griffiths, Prentice Hall. Although most of the book is on electrodynamics, the last chapter provides a good introduction to special relativity before applying it to electrodynamics.
  6. Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell, Anthony Zee, (Princeton University Press, 2013). Although this book gets rave reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads, I personally found it very difficult to use. Zee's writing style is informal and leads you to believe you are understanding what he has written...until you try to solve the problems at the ends of the chapters, when you start to realize that you really didn't understand things at all. I wouldn't recommend this book as a first (or even second) exposure to relativity. Calling an almost-900 page book 'in a nutshell' is a bit deceptive as well.
Thermal and statistical physics
  1. An Introduction to Thermal Physics, Daniel V. Schroeder, Addison-Wesley (2000). The most recent release is published by Oxford University Press. A good introduction to the basics of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, at the undergraduate level. The writing style is relaxed and the explanations are clear.
  2. Statistical physics, Second edition, Fritz Mandl, Wiley (1988). Another good undergraduate text with clear explanations. One big advantage is that hints are given for all the problems. The hints are often detailed enough to count as virtually complete solutions.
String theory
  1. A First Course in String Theory, 2nd edition, Barton Zwiebach (Cambridge University Press, 2009) I'd imagine most books on string theory would require a solid background in quantum field theory and general relativity, but this one is written for undergraduate physics students, so little knowledge of either seems to be required. As I know very little about string theory, I can't comment on how comprehensive this book is, but the clarity of the text makes it a joy to read. This is largely due to the author's sterling reputation as a teacher (see his lectures on quantum mechanics referenced above). It's a shame that Zwiebach hasn't written more textbooks, but then I suppose he's a busy man.
Group theory
  1. Group Theory in a Nutshell for Physicists, Anthony Zee (Princeton University Press, 2016). Unlike Zee's other two books mentioned above, this one appears to be much more accessible, at least to the extent that I've read so far. Clear explanations, and plenty of examples.
  2. Lie Groups, Lie Algebras and Some of Their Applications, Robert Gilmore (Wiley, 1974). Also written for physicists, this book is at a slighter higher level than Zee's, as more mathematical terminology is used. Still fairly accessible, though.
  3. Lie Groups, Physics and Geometry, Robert Gilmore (Cambridge University Press, 2008). Something of a condensed version of Gilmore's other book.