General Physics Reference Books

Supplements for Introductory Physics Concepts

When you're getting started in physics, there are a diverse range of concepts to get a clear grasp on. Sometimes, you need some references that will break the concepts down more than your high school or even introductory-level college textbooks. There are a variety of such volumes available, many of them from publishers that specialize in making complex subjects very accessible to their readers. These books cover a range of basic physics concepts and are useful as a supplement to an introductory physics course, or to self-teach yourself physics concepts.

For years, I've been a fan of the "for Dummies" series of books. Their Physics for Dummies and Physics Workbook for Dummies provide some good reference sources for anyone looking to get started in a basic understanding of physics. Granted, I've become a bit biased in recent years about their high standards of excellence, but this book was on the list before I had any professional association with the For Dummies line of books.

Similar to the "For Dummies" series, I've found that the Complete Idiot Guides are very accessible introductions to the topics they cover. 

Kaplan is pretty good with course and test prep materials, and this AP Physics book covers the bulk of advanced high school or introductory college level physics courses. It's geared specifically toward preparing for the AP Physics examination, though, so is intended as a review of key concepts, rather than a self-teaching guide.

New editions of this volume are released annually. Though the physics doesn't change, the AP Physics tests do, so it may be worthwhile to be sure you're getting the most recent version. On the other hand, preparation books from previous years may be available at a discount, so if you're looking for a general physics reference, finding older used versions of this might be a good (and cheap) option.

Kaplan's SAT Subject Test: Physics

Similar to the AP Physics guide, this test prep book covers the material needed to do well on the SAT Subject Test in Physics. Again, it's not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to focus specifically on the types of questions which one could expect on this specific test. And, of course, though the test changes, the physics concepts themselves remain generally constant (barring any major scientific revolution, of course), meaning that older versions of this reference might still serve well to get a cheap physics reference book.

This guide is specifically tailored for the self-taught physics student. Instead of being primarily a reference book, this is designed with a specific eye toward enhancing learning speed and retention.  

Finding References

Of course, while these are all great guides and references for learning basic physics concepts, there are also a wide variety of online resources that can generally be trusted to provide accurate information on the basics of physics. Pretty much all of the concepts addressed in these books are also covered on Physics, for example, and you can find a range of other online sources (like How Stuff Works, Wikipedia, and various university websites) that go into different topics to varying degrees of complexity.