Drawing Physics

Drawing Physics

2,600 Years of Discovery From Thales to Higgs

By Don S. Lemons

Drawings and short essays offer engaging and accessible explanations of key ideas in physics, from triangulation to relativity and beyond.





Drawings and short essays offer engaging and accessible explanations of key ideas in physics, from triangulation to relativity and beyond.

Humans have been trying to understand the physical universe since antiquity. Aristotle had one vision (the realm of the celestial spheres is perfect), and Einstein another (all motion is relativistic). More often than not, these different understandings begin with a simple drawing, a pre-mathematical picture of reality. Such drawings are a humble but effective tool of the physicist's craft, part of the tradition of thinking, teaching, and learning passed down through the centuries. This book uses drawings to help explain fifty-one key ideas of physics accessibly and engagingly. Don Lemons, a professor of physics and author of several physics books, pairs short, elegantly written essays with simple drawings that together convey important concepts from the history of physical science.

Lemons proceeds chronologically, beginning with Thales' discovery of triangulation, the Pythagorean monocord, and Archimedes' explanation of balance. He continues through Leonardo's description of “earthshine” (the ghostly glow between the horns of a crescent moon), Kepler's laws of planetary motion, and Newton's cradle (suspended steel balls demonstrating by their collisions that for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction). Reaching the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Lemons explains the photoelectric effect, the hydrogen atom, general relativity, the global greenhouse effect, Higgs boson, and more. The essays place the science of the drawings in historical context—describing, for example, Galileo's conflict with the Roman Catholic Church over his teaching that the sun is the center of the universe, the link between the discovery of electrical phenomena and the romanticism of William Wordsworth, and the shadow cast by the Great War over Einstein's discovery of relativity.

Readers of Drawing Physics with little background in mathematics or physics will say, “Now I see, and now I understand.”


$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262035903 264 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 81 b&w illus.


$19.95 T ISBN: 9780262535199 264 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 81 b&w illus.

For sale in North America only.


  • Although physics complexifies through the 19th and 20th centuries, with Maxwell, Einstein and their fellow brainiacs pushing the limits of comprehension, the book retains its clarity and charm.

    Wall Street Journal

  • Simple, evocative black-and-white line drawings illustrate millennia of famous discoveries in this delightful volume.... The book is a perfect starting point for those who want to learn more about the history of physics.

    Physics Today

  • A must-have for teachers, Drawing Physics would also be enjoyed by an layperson interested in improving their grasp on physics and learning about the history of scientific thought.

    Skeptical Inquirer


  • Brilliant! In one place, 51 unforgettable drawings. From Pythagoras to the Higgs boson, the essence of a year course in physics.

    Reuben Hersh

    Professor Emeritus, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New Mexico; coauthor of The Mathematical Experience, winner of the National Book Award, 1983

  • What a great project! Science books are normally illustrated by captioned line drawings. Don Lemons reverses the procedure: After selecting some of the most compelling drawings from the vast literature of physics he illuminates them with explanatory essays. But his comments aren't mere captions. They reach out into science history, correct popular misconceptions, uncover fresh anecdotes, and point out hidden connections. In short, they flesh out the images with meaning. Open the book and see for yourself: Lemons draws you in.

    Hans Christian von Baeyer

    Chancellor Professor of Physics emeritus, College of William and Mary; author of QBism: The Future of Quantum Physics

  • Don Lemons's delightful Drawing Physics takes us from Heraclitus to Higgs, from planets to particle physics, from astronomy to atoms, with the aid of simple diagrams—a neglected set of cultural artifacts in the history of science. Literate, accurate, and accessible, Drawing Physics is a gem.

    Robert C. Hilborn

    Associate Executive Officer, American Association of Physics Teachers; author of Chaos and Nonlinear Dynamics: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineer