Natural Sciences (Physical) reading list

For prospective students

Female student in a supervision

We advise you to read the Natural Sciences page thoroughly. For reading and preparation advice, the following sections should be particularly useful:

Do also keep an eye on the subject resources, which provide more general guidance and examples for developing your academic interests.

For offer holders

The following notes on the Natural Sciences Tripos should help you in thinking about the subjects you will take when you come to Cambridge. Please write if you would like further information or advice on any of the points raised. I will discuss your course with you at the start of your first term here.

There are two points that should be particularly noted. First, there is the need to study three experimental sciences. This probably means that you will have to start a new subject. In connection with this, Please complete and return this PDF form to the Admissions Office no later than 1 August. The form asks you about your choice of subjects for next year (students with deferred places submit this form the August before they start the course).

If you need to consult me about your choices, please do not hesitate to email (

Secondly, I should like to emphasise the important point that university work should be an education. It should help you to face new and previously unknown problems and situations in your future life. Mere knowledge of the conclusions of the present is only slightly helpful. Practice in evaluating evidence and handling arguments is much more useful.

Although it is easy to think one is working when committing to memory the conclusions reached in the subject under study, this has very limited educational value. The important thing is to see how these conclusions are reached and to learn how to construct and handle arguments that lead to them, and to be aware of the weakness that these arguments contain.

You will have to work on your own much more at university than at school. The need to study a subject more deeply than as a catalogue of conclusions has practical consequences for the way you should work. Only a part of your working time should be actual reading. Thinking about what you have to read, checking the arguments concerned, examining the relations between different parts of your work, and trying out techniques to solve numerical and logical problems, - all these will be important to your development as a working scientist.

Dr David Munday, Director of Studies

First Year = Part I of the Natural Sciences Tripos

Students take any THREE experimental sciences – ALL take a compulsory Mathematics course. When choosing options, please take time to explore all relevant options (follow the links below) and consult the required subjects before making your choices.

Experimental Sciences

Mathematical Subjects

Second Year (Part IB)

Structure and papers in Part IB

Third Year (Part II)

Structure and papers in Part II

Possible fourth Year (Part III)

Structure and papers in Part III

Further suggested reading

We are often asked to make suggestions for preparatory reading. There is no pre-requisite reading that needs to be done, but you may find the following books interesting and informative at a general level. Please note that the books present an initial view of the subject and may not include material covered by the undergraduate course. You are NOT expected to purchase any of the books on this suggested reading list.

Students planning to take Mathematics courses A or B should consult the two links in the Mathematics section below. Attention is also drawn to reading suggestions provided by the University Departments for Natural Sciences.

Biology of Cells

  • B. Alberts et al (2008) 5th Edition, Molecular Biology of the Cell, Garland
  • J.M. Berg (2006) 6th Edition, Biochemistry, Freeman
  • A.J.F. Griffith et al (2004) 8th Edition An introduction to Genetic Analysis, Freeman

Although A level Biology is not a requirement for the Biology of Cells Course, students who have not done Biology at A level are advised to consult an A level Biology text before they come up. Recommended: B. Alberts et al (2003) Essential Cell Biology, 2nd Edition (Garland) £37.50. Some familiarity with the following broad topics would be an advantage in the first part of the Michaelmas Term: Microscopic examination of cells; Comparative (plant, animal and microbial) cell structure; Cellulas compartments (mitochondria. chloroplasts. nucleus); Basic membrane structures.


  • PW Atkins, Molecules, Scientific American
  • J Keeler & P Wothers, Why Chemical Reactions Happen, O.U.P.
  • ChemNRICH

Computer Science

  • Dewdney, A Kee, The new Turing omnibus, Computer Sciences Press 1993 (reprinted 2001, Henry Holt)
  • Körner, Tom W, The Pleasures of Counting, C.U.P. (1996)
  • Preparing to study Computer Science

Earth Sciences

  • Davidson, J et al, Exploring the Earth, Prentice-Hall
  • Dickey, JS, On the Rocks: Earth Science for everyone, Wiley
  • Knou, A.H, Life on a Young Planet, Princeton Univ Press
  • MacDougall, JD, A short history of planet Earth, Wiley
  • Van Andel, TJH, New Views on an Old Planet, C.U.P

Evolution and Behaviour

  • MS Dawkins, Through our eyes only?, O.U.P
  • R Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, O.U.P
  • J Diamond, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Vintage
  • S Jones, In the Blood, Harper/Collins
  • L Margulis, The Symbiotic Planet: A new look at evolution, Weidenfield/Nicholson

Materials Science

  • Baillie, C and Vanasupa, L, Navigating the Material World, Academic Press
  • Gordon, JE, New Science of Strong Materials, Penguin
  • Braithwaite and Weaver, Electronic Materials, Butterworth
  • Ashby, MF and Johnson, K, Materials and Design, Butterworth
  • Hazen, RM, The Diamond Makers, CUP


  • physNRICH
  • R.P. Feyman, The Character of Physical Law, Penguin
  • T. Hey & P. Walters, The Quantum Universe, C.U.P.
  • J. Walker, The Flying Circus of Physics, John Wiley & Sons
  • Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Transworld.Doubleday
  • T. Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Anchor/Doubleday
  • G. Gamow. (Ed. R. Stannard), The New World of Mr Tompkins, C.U.P.

Any of these books can be dipped into for pure enjoyment. Most should be available in libraries – we don’t expect you either to buy them or to learn anything specific.

Physiology of Organisms

  • King, J, Reaching for the sun, C.U.P.
  • Widmaier, EP, Why Geese don’t get obese (and we do), W. H. Freeman
  • McGowan, C, Diatoms to Dinosaurs, The size and scale of living things, Penguin
  • Walker, D, Energy, Plants and Man, Oxigraphics. (Available from the author: download or CD at )


  • Bondi, C, New Applications of Mathematics, Penguin
  • Sivia, DS & Rawlings, SG, Foundations of Science Mathematics, O.U.P.
  • Maor, E, To Infinity and Beyond, Princeton
  • Hofstadter, D, Godel, Escher and Bach, Penguin
  • Hall, N (ed.), The New Scientist Guide to Chaos, Penguin

Elementary Mathematics

  • Huff, D, How to Lie with Statistics, Pelican
  • Foster, PC, Easy Mathematics for Biologists, Harwood
  • Rowntree, D, Statistics without Tears, Penguin

Mathematical Biology

  • Eason G, Coles CW & Getingby G, Mathematics and Statistics for the Biosciences, Ellis-Horwood
  • Rowntree, D, Statistics without Tears – a Primer for Non-Mathematicians, Penguin

Further Resources

Reading lists | For offer holders | Undergraduate study