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Living in the Cambridge bubble


Time for a few summaries. I’ll start with books, as reading probably took between 10% and 20% of my PhD. To my surprise (and embarassment), I found I have only really read five books. I have read excerpts from many others, but below I am listing only the ones from which I read more than a chapter.

  1. Mark Fox, Optical Properties of Solids. One of my colleagues had a course with Mr. Fox in Sheffield and he said he was eccentric, but he definitely knows how to write good textbooks! The book is essentially about what happens when light shines on solid materials and how we model these interactions. I wish I had found it during my undergrad. I am reading it along writing my thesis, it is great for introducing basic equations and concepts.

  2. Steven H. Simon, The Oxford Solid State Basics. This book is complementary to the first one — it deals with solid materials as such, not with their interactions with light (although there is a chapter about that as well). It is written in a light, sometimes even funny style, which is very unusual for a scientific textbook. For me, it only made it easier to read. Prof. Simon’s lectures matching the book are available here.

  3. Jérôme Faist, Quantum Cascade Lasers. Jérôme is one of the founders of my field of semiconductor physics (the original QCL paper has been cited ~5000 times). His book deals with most aspects of QCLs. It is not an undergraduate textbook though — most of it reads more like a scientific paper. I must admit I have not read it all. The style was too heavy for me. I will try to read the more interesting bits between now and my viva.

  4. Joannopoulos, Johnson, Winn, Meade, Photonic Crystals: Molding the Flow of Light. This is the only book from this list that I read almost whole — I think I only skipped one chapter which dealt with 3D structures, which I did not work on. It is another book on this list written by a father of a whole research domain, but this one I found more digestible. It also starts from a lower level than Faist’s book, so it is easier to bite.

  5. The Feynman Lectures on Physics. I am not worthy of reviewing these three books. I have wanted to read them all since the first year of my undergrad, and I still have not completed that! This is the level of physics I still enjoy studying a lot: not too specialised, but interconnected, complicated, wonderful and full of surprises. While reading it I feel like Faraday, Thomson or Newton who have just seen the results of their groundbreaking experiments. I would like to be able to explain the world to my children the way Feynman explains it to me through these books.