The best books to learn about the universe: from quarks to the cosmos

Who am I?

Don Lincoln is both a research scientist and a masterful science communicator. On the science side, he participated in the discovery of both the top quark and the Higgs boson. On the communicator side, he has written books, made hundreds of YouTube videos, and written for such visible venues as Scientific American and CNN. He has both the scientific chops and writer expertise to tell an exciting story about why the universe is the way it is.


I wrote...

Understanding The Universe: From Quarks To The Cosmos

By Don Lincoln,

Book cover of Understanding The Universe: From Quarks To The Cosmos

What is my book about?

The Big Bang, the birth of the universe, was a singular event. All the matter of the visible universe was concentrated at a single point, with temperatures so high that even the familiar protons and neutrons of atoms did not yet exist, but rather were replaced by a swirling maelstrom of energy, matter, and antimatter. Exotic quarks and leptons flickered briefly into existence, before merging back into the energy sea.

This book explains the fascinating world of quarks and leptons and the forces that govern their behavior. Told from an experimental physicist's perspective, it forgoes mathematical complexity, using instead particularly accessible figures and apt analogies. In addition to the story of quarks and leptons, which are regarded as well-accepted fact, the author (who is a leading researcher at one of the world's highest-energy particle physics laboratories) also discusses mysteries at both the experimental and theoretical frontiers, before tying it all together with the exciting field of cosmology and indeed the birth of the universe itself.

The books I picked & why

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The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics

By Charles C. Mann, Robert P. Crease,

Book cover of The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics

Why this book?

This book is an extraordinary romp through the discoveries in particle physics during its formative years, from the electron and x-rays, through the muon, antimatter, and the dizzying particle zoo of the 1950s and 1960s. The book tells a lot of history that books focused on science simply gloss over. It’s a fun and interesting read and you will have a much better appreciation of how scientists learned what they have about the subatomic world.


Massive: The Higgs Boson and the Greatest Hunt in Science

By Ian Sample,

Book cover of Massive: The Higgs Boson and the Greatest Hunt in Science

Why this book?

This book tells the history of the development of the theory of the Higgs boson. It names names and gives dates over the past half a century, pointing out who the major players were and how they interacted as the theory was developed. Perhaps the first surprise is it wasn’t all done by Peter Higgs. Indeed, Higgs was one of many laboring on this very interesting theoretical challenge. And, as I was a member of the research group that discovered the Higgs boson, I was very interested in understanding the history of the theory.


The Large Hadron Collider: The Extraordinary Story of the Higgs Boson and Other Stuff That Will Blow Your Mind

By Don Lincoln,

Book cover of The Large Hadron Collider: The Extraordinary Story of the Higgs Boson and Other Stuff That Will Blow Your Mind

Why this book?

It is perhaps unfair to pick this book, as it is one I wrote, but it really is an unparalled book on the subject of the Large Hadron Collider (or LHC), currently the most powerful particle accelerator on the planet. The book contains some physics and technical information on the LHC and the detectors arrayed around it. It tells the stories of the startup, including the catastrophic damage that took two years to repair, and the accelerator’s triumphant return to operations. It tells insider tales of the assembly of the detectors and also gives an insider’s view of the discovery of the Higgs boson. No other book gives the reader such an intimate window seat to see how this amazing technical leviathan came into being.


Dark Matter and Dark Energy: The Hidden 95% of the Universe

By Brian Clegg,

Book cover of Dark Matter and Dark Energy: The Hidden 95% of the Universe

Why this book?

While scientists know a great deal about the matter around us, it turns out that ordinary matter is a mere 5% of the matter and energy of the universe. A full 95% is of an unknown type. A substance called dark matter makes up 25% of the energy budget of the universe, while dark energy makes up the remaining 70%. This book focuses on the unknown 95% of the universe. No person will understand the rules that govern the universe, without a thorough understanding of these as-yet-undiscovered substances.


At the Edge of Time: Exploring the Mysteries of Our Universe's First Seconds

By Dan Hooper,

Book cover of At the Edge of Time: Exploring the Mysteries of Our Universe's First Seconds

Why this book?

If one sets out to understand the universe, one thing one needs to do is understand the laws and rules that govern the matter and energy that makes up the cosmos. The second thing one needs to understand is how it came into existence. In this book, Dan Hooper describes what we know about the first few minutes. Hooper is a theoretical cosmologist at Fermilab, America’s flagship particle physics laboratory. He’s also an excellent author, with a great narrative style. If you want to understand how the Big Bang banged, this is the book for you.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in quarks, physics, and the Big Bang?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about quarks, physics, and the Big Bang.

Quarks Explore 5 books about quarks
Physics Explore 90 books about physics
The Big Bang Explore 9 books about the Big Bang

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Particle at the End of the Universe, Time and Chance, and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics if you like this list.