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Book List

Hector C. Parr


These are all books which I have found of great interest. My comments cannot fail to be subjective, but I hope they are free from prejudice. They may help you decide whether a book is worth purchasing or borrowing.

Most are still in print, and some of the others, even the oldest ones, are available secondhand. You should be able to find details from the websites of Amazon Bookstore UK or the Internet Book Shop. Books can be purchased by e-mail from both these sites.



Barrow, J.D. & Tipler, J., The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (OUP, 1986)

The authors show an astonishingly wide knowledge of facts and current hypotheses. They rightly declare that man's existence puts close constraints on the laws of nature, but appear to confuse this with the view that our existence is actually responsible for these laws, And very few readers will be convinced by their chief thesis, that man will develop self-replicating intelligent machines which will eventually colonise the whole universe.

Berry, M., Principles of Cosmology and Gravitation (CUP, 1976)

An excellent text book on General Relativity and Cosmology. The 1976 edition excludes some recent developments, (but as most of these are wildly speculative, the omission is unimportant). Non-mathematicians may find the mathematics forbidding, but the author clearly understands the significance of every formula he quotes, and tries to ensure the reader does too. So one can learn much cosmology even if the maths is skipped.

Davies, P.C.W., Space and Time in the Modern Universe (CUP, 1977)

An excellent treatment for the general intelligent reader of Special and General Relativity, Cosmology, and the nature of Time. Indeed the chapter on entropy and the asymmetry of time is clearer and more closely argued than anything Davies has written subsequently on the subject.

Davies, P.C.W., The Accidental Universe (CUP, 1982)

A learned and succinct outline of cosmology, with an attempt to show that our existence depends on a series of highly unlikely coincidences. But I believe Davies' statistics to be flawed. He describes as "accidental" any numerical values whose explanation we do not yet understand, and he believes they could have had different values from the ones we observe. And he discusses the probability of magnitudes lying within particular ranges without any reference to the probability distribution he assumes.

Davies, P.C.W., The Goldilocks Enigma (Allen Lane, 2006)

"The Goldilocks Enigma" is the name Davies gives to the remarkable fact that the Universe seems fine tuned to make life possible. Of course all forms of life adapt themselves to their environment, but there is little doubt that if the laws of physics or the constants of nature had differed even slightly from what they are, then life as we know it would have been impossible. In this fascinating and beautifully written book Davies considers the question from every possible angle, and in the course of it he presents to us an excellent introduction to modern cosmology. He discusses at length three possible explanations for the astonishing suitability of the universe for life to arise, (i) that it is just an amazing coincidence, (ii) that the laws were designed by some divine intelligence specifically for life to develop, or (iii) that there might be a multitude of universes, with differing characteristics, and we exist necessarily in one of the most suitable.

Davies describes and explains with exemplary clarity the big bang, the microwave background radiation, the expansion of space, cosmic horizons and curved space-time. His explanation of some more speculative ideas, such as inflation and dark energy, are perhaps less convincing, but not through failure on Davies' part so much as the flimsy basis of the subject matter itself. However, we must criticise Davies for dealing uncritically with the mad suggestion that our universe and everything in it, including ourselves, may not be real, but merely a simulation running on a monstrous computer in some other universe. Such ideas should be confined to books of science fiction. And the sane reader may be close to despair when he reads about the possibility of our universe being a simulation inside a higher simulation..... But this is a splendid book, which should be read by everyone who thinks deeply about the fundamental questions of existence.

Gribbin, J., In the Beginning, (BCA, 1993)

Gribbin provides a good description of present views on the origin of the universe, and of life on earth. But much more speculative, (some would say bizarre), is his belief in the existence of many universes, from which our own has developed by a process of natural selection.

Hawking, S.W., A Brief History of Time, (Guild, 1988)

A well-known book, which has brought fame to its author, and generated wide popular interest in the problems of cosmology and particle physics. Some may think the book's reputation rather "over the top", but it should be on everyone's bookshelf.

Hawking, S.W., The Universe in a Nutshell, (Bantam, 2001)

This is a strange book. Several chapters describe admirably some of the concepts of modern physics and cosmology, but others contain weird writing and illustrations concerning difficult topics, such as supersymmetry and matter fields, with little attempt to explain them. One is reminded of the equally imaginative writings of another well-known mathematician. For example:

Supersymmetry was first considered for removing infinities in matter fields and Yang-Mills fields in a spacetime where both the ordinary number dimensions and the Grassmann dimensions were flat, not curved. But it was natural to extend it to ordinary numbers and Grassmann dimensions that were curved.
Stephen Hawking

'Twas brilig, and the slithy tothes did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsys were the boro-groves, and the mumwraths did outgrabe.

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)

Chapter 5 deals with the possibility of time-travel, but like most writing on the subject, Hawking's is dependent on a fundamental error. His pictures are all representations of space-time, in which the concept of change or motion is depicted by the disposition of space-time events rather than by their movement; but Hawking imposes on these essentially static pictures another tier of motion through space-time, and thereby invalidates all his arguments. However, this book is destined to sell in millions, so do read it, and decide for yourself.



Atkins, P.W., The Second Law, (Scientific American, 1984)

A beautifully written and illustrated book, giving a very clear explanation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and its many applications. The author uses a clever model to represent temperature and entropy, illustrated with coloured diagrams and computer programs (in BASIC) which the reader can run.

Atkins, P.W., Galileo's Finger, (OUP, 2003)

A remarkable attempt to describe the latest developments in Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Cosmology and Mathematics. The book is packed with reliable information, but inevitably some sections are more successful than others. The chapters on Evolution, Heredity, Energy and Arithmetic are particularly satisfying, but the treatment of Symmetry and Quantum Theory are rather irritating, for Atkins leads us so far along several fascinating avenues and then abandons us just as we approach the point of greatest interest. But do get hold of a copy. The clarity of Atkins' writing and his little touches of humour will ensure you read every word.

Coveney, P. & Highfield, R., The Arrow of Time, (Allen, 1990)

At first sight, this is a magnificent book, beautifully bound, and covering every aspect of the perplexing irreversability of Time. But reading it can prove rather disappointing, perhaps because the source of this irreversability still eludes the authors. They may have got closer if they had enquired not only why Time always flows in one direction, but also why it appears to flow at all.

Davies, P.C.W. & Brown, J.R., The Ghost in the Atom, (CUP, 1986)

The transcript of a series of radio interviews. The editors' introduction contributes a clear and unbiassed description of Quantum Theory and its interpretations, while the interviews which follow present a fascinating insight into the differing attempts of eight leading physicists to make sense of the philosophical implications.

Davies, P.C.W. & Brown, J., Superstrings, (CUP, 1988)

Another series of broadcast interviews, dealing with recent attempts to reconcile Quantum Theory with General Relativity. The editors' introduction provides a sober description of recent developments in particle physics. But most of the interviews serve only to show that Superstring Theory is still little more than wild speculation and vague day-dreaming.

Davies, P.C.W., About Time, (Viking, 1995)

An interesting book, exploring almost every conceivable aspect of Time, and much else besides. It has some errors (such as a puzzling diagram printed upside-down), and in places Davies has clearly backed the wrong horse (as in his support for the Doomsday argument, using statistical methods to predict the early demise of the human race). But it is a valuable and enjoyable book.

Eddington, A.S., Space, Time and Gravitation, (CUP, 1920)

Despite the bad press he has sometimes received, Eddington was one of the greatest thinkers and science popularisers of the century. Nearly eighty years after its publication, this book is still required reading for some undergraduate physics courses. His treatment of General Relativity is unsurpassed. Only moderate mathematical knowledge is required; the worst parts are relegated to the Appendix.

Eddington, A.S., The Nature of the Physical World, (CUP, 1928)

A fascinating set of lectures delivered in 1928 on scientific topics, including Thermodynamics, Time and Relativity. Eddington's treatment of Quantum Theory, so soon after its birth, is of great historic interest.

Einstein, A. (trans. Lawson, R.W.), Relativity, (Methuen, 1920, etc., 1985)

Here, straight from the horse's mouth, are the principles of Special and General Relativity, set down for the general reader with remarkable clarity and a minimum of mathematics. Every other book on Relativity for the non-specialist is rendered redundant by this work.

Einstein, A., Ideas and Opinions, (Crown Publishers, 1954)

A fascinating collection of extracts from Einstein's articles and lectures, covering not only scientific matters but also questions of politics, education and much more. Unlike many great physicists Einstein had a remarkable facility for describing the most profound principles in language that anyone can understand, so his explanations of relativity theory are of great interest. Some may consider his writings on politics, and particularly on freedom and pacificism, to be rather naive, but might it not be that here also his clarity of expression disguises the profundity of his thinking?

Feynman, R.P., Q.E.D., (Penguin, 1985)

The classic guide to Quantum Electrodynamics for the general reader. The principles are expounded with Feynman's usual engaging clarity, and while they are much simplified, you know nothing Feynman writes is actually wrong, and that you will gain no incorrect impressions. Highly commended.

French, A.P. & Taylor, E.F., An Introduction to Quantum Physics, (Chapman & Hall, 1979)

A standard text book for the specialist. If you need to study the subject at this level there is probably no book which makes the material clearer. Very accessible provided you have the necessary school mathematics.

Greene, B., The Elegant Universe, (Vintage, 1999)

Never before has scientific theory got so far ahead of experimental practice. Brian Greene is one of a group of theoretical physicists who have worked for almost twenty years on String Theory, an attempt to resolve the incompatibility of General Relavity with Quantum Mechanics. Despite the absence of any experimental basis this theory has been developed to a high level of complexity, and few writers could explain it more clearly for the non-technical reader than does Greene in this fine book.
If String Theory does eventually provide the gateway to a "Theory of Everything", it will go down in history as the supreme example of man's intellect, his ability to unravel a complex plot from the flimsiest of evidence. If it does not, it should still be remembered as a monument to man's imagination, his remarkable capacity for picturing the bizarre, the impossible, the ridiculous. Read the book, and decide for yourself what you think will be the verdict of history.

Gribbin, J., In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, (Corgi, 1984)

A very complete history of Quantum Theory, with brief biographies of its originators. Recommended, although some readers may feel Gribbin's adherence to the Many Worlds theory, and his interest in science fiction, detract from the value of the book.

Isaacs, A. (ed.), A Concise Dictionary of Physics, (OUP, 1990)

A very useful first port of call when looking for information on Physics.

Peierls, R.E., The Laws of Nature, (Allen & Unwin, 1955)

A beautifully clear description of the state of modern physics as it stood in the middle of the twentieth century.

Penrose, R., The Emperor's New Mind, (Vintage, 1990)

A monumental work of 600 pages. The avowed purpose is to examine the question "Can a computer have a mind?" But the reader is taken on a detailed tour of twentieth-century mathematics and physics, visiting Godel's Theorem, Special and General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Cosmology, Brain Physiology, and much else. The reader may not agree with Penrose's conclusions, nor with his views on quantum theory or the mind, but this book should be on the shelves of everyone with an interest in physics or philosophy.

Penrose, R., (et.al.), The Large, the Small and the Human Mind, (CUP, 1995)

In chapters 1 to 3 Penrose sets out his highly individual views on the unsolved problems of physics, mathematics, biology and the human mind. Three commentators then put some opposing views, and finally Penrose responds. This makes stimulating reading, but the reader should expect to disagree fiercely with some of the viewpoints.

Polkinghorne, J.C., The Quantum World, (Penguin, 1984)

This is a splendid little book, clear and authoritative. Most of the mathematics is consigned to Appendices, but the few equations appearing in the text are all sound (and heavily accompanied by apologies). The chapter on waveform collapse provides a comprehensive treatment of rival theories, without deciding between them.

Price, H., Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point (OUP, 1996)

Many authors have drawn attention to the fact that our false impression of the nature of Time, our belief that it "flows" and can go only in one direction, accounts for many of the perplexities we find in Philosophy and Physics. Such writers often tell us how difficult it is to avoid this trap, and then fall headlong into it themselves! But not so Huw Price, in this clear and beautifully written book. Price's relentless spotlight illuminates many aspects of Physics and Cosmology, and he eloquently puts forward a new view on how the paradoxes of Quantum Theory can be resolved.

Schulman, L. S., Time's Arrows and Quantum Measurement (CUP, 1997)

An interesting book of contrasts. It contains some forbidding Mathematics, but is well worth reading by both laymen and professionals. The first chapters examine in detail the various arrows of time; Schulman attributes the Second Law to the "boundary conditions" immediately after the big bang, and considers also the possibility of a second set of boundary conditions at the "big crunch". I found this fascinating, for it develops ideas covered in several of the essays on this site.
The later chapters present a new attempt at resolving the Quantum Measurement Problem. Schulman believes in a sort of backwards causation, but this is far from convincing as he offers little by way of explanation of how or why these effects arise.



Blackburn, S., The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (OUP, 1994)

A very useful book of first reference for examining almost any topic in philosophy. It is astonishing that so wide-ranging and unbiased a text can be the work of one person.

Dawkins, R., The Selfish Gene (OUP, 1976)

This book should be read by everyone with any interest in philosophy. It must rank as one of the most important scientific books of the twentieth century, and Dawkins as one of the most intelligent and persuasive writers. His theory that the driving force of evolution is the survival of the gene, rather than of the individual or of the species, leads to highly significant corollories which he explores with wonderful clarity.

Dennett, D.C., Kinds of Minds (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996)

A beautifully written account of the development of life on earth, and the emergence of reasoning and consciousness. Some readers will feel that Dennett over-estimates the importance of language in thinking and generalising.

Hollis, S., Invitation to Philosophy (Blackwell, 1985)

A most enjoyable book for the general reader on several of philosophy's most pressing problems. Its popular appeal is not achieved by glossing over difficulties or sacrificing rigorous argument.

Magee, B., Men of Ideas (OUP, 1978)

Based on a series of television programmes, this book presents fifteen dialogues between Bryan Magee and the outstanding philosophers of the day. Never revealing the extent to which he agrees or disagrees, Magee's probing gets to the bottom of each thinker's beliefs. Fascinating.

Russell, B., The Problems of Philosophy (OUP, 1912)

Russell's early views on some of philosophy's most celebrated problems make interesting reading. The book provides a valuable introduction to the subject for beginners.

Russell, B., History of Western Philosophy (Routledge, 1946)

The immensity of Russell's knowledge and understanding, and the clarity of his prose, make this valuable book a pleasure to read. Every notable contribution to philosophical thought between 585 BC and 1900 AD seems to be covered. Russell's own views may influence some of the argument, but never in a way that the reader cannot disentangle. Indispensible for everyone interested in philosophy at any level.

Savitt, S.F. (ed), Time's Arrows Today (CUP, 1995)

An important collection of essays by eleven philosophers and physicists on the nature of Time and the reasons for the apparent asymmetry of past and future. Their depth and technical detail make this a difficult read, but unlike so many writers on the subject these authors do not fall into the trap against which they warn others, of assuming tacetly the directionality of time in their efforts to explain it.

Watson, G. (ed), Free Will (OUP, 1982)

A set of twelve essays by professional philosophers on one of the most controversial and puzzling problems in philosophy. These differ widely in viewpoint and in the skill with which they are argued, but all are worth reading.



Clutton, C. & Niland, A., The British Organ (Batsford, 1963)

A well written and illustrated book on the history of the British Organ, and some of the problems of playing it. At a time when organ building in this country was taking a wrong turn which many people now consider disastrous, this book, while certainly not reactionary, was a beacon of moderation and common sense.

Ferguson, H., Keyboard Interpretation (OUP, 1975)

Written more for pianists than organists, but nonetheless a most valuable guide to performance practice of all the chief schools of organ music. I find the chapters on ornamentation and rhythmic conventions far more useful than the standard texts, such as Dolmetsch and Dart.

Grace, H., The organ Works of Bach (Novello, 1922)

Despite its age, this book contains a fund of sensible opinion and practical advice, most of which is still applicable. I refer to my copy at least once each week.

Hurford, P., Making Music on the Organ (OUP, 1988)

A wide-ranging book for every player, by one of this country's leading players. It includes a clear description of how the organ works, with beautifully clear illustrations, and proceeds through a thorough treatment of phrasing and articulation, to the interpretation of Bach and the French Classical school. Highly recommended for the serious student.

Keller, H., The Organ Works of Bach (Peters, 1967)

Another valuable work, covering every one of Bach's organ works, with textual comments and good advice on performance. May now be difficult to find, but is worth the effort.

Pacey, R. & Popkin, M., The Organs of Oxford (Positif, 1997)

Indispensible to those of us who like to read the history and specifications of organs as we listen to recordings.

Sumner, W.L., The Organ (Macdonald, 1952)

A scholarly but thoroughly enjoyable treatise on the history of the organ, the principles of its construction and tonal structure, and the art of playing it. It is unfortunate that this work is now difficult to obtain; those organists fortunate enough to have a copy will find it invaluable for many years to come.

Thistlethwaite, N., The Organs of Cambridge (Positif, 1983)

(See comments on "The Organs of Oxford".)

Thistlethwaite, N. and Webber, G., The Cambridge Companion to the Organ (CUP, 1998)

An important collection of essays, each by an expert in his field, covering the development of organ building, principles of construction, organ cases, organ playing, and the music and instruments of a dozen different schools of organ composition. With only one or two exceptions, each is very well written, and even the more complex topics are described with admirable clarity. Highly recommended to every serious organist and organ lover. The line drawings are beautifully reproduced, and the many fine photographs marred only by the poor quality paper.

Wills, A., Organ (Macdonald, 1984)

A splendid little book that should be better known, covering the history of the organ and the art of playing, with two chapters devoted to improvisation.

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