It is probably a good thing over all that laypeople want to keep themselves abreast of science, and the many popular books about physics are a good way for those without a doctorate in mathematics to keep up with things. Some of these books are good, others not so good, but they do share a certain formula: a formula I am familiar with since I read these books. Between the 1930s and now, many of these books have been written, some by noted physicists, others by outsiders, some with perhaps a looser understanding of physics. I will present a simple outline for how you too, may write a popular book on physics, or allied fields.
- A brief introduction, in which the general state of human knowledge and the idea of science as a whole is presented. Poetic descriptions of the nature of human curiosity are accepted, as are prosaic descriptions of human society and its need for technology. Depending on the tone of the book, philosophical or metaphysical comments about the limits and nature of human knowledge are also allowed.
- The Greeks: After briefly covering some prehistory, discuss how the Greeks crystallized primitive technology into formal laws, as well as developed cosmological systems and speculated about the basic building blocks of matter. Comments can be made about what they got right, and what they got wrong, and how in either case they shaped the future. For extra special credit, the fact that other cultures existed that also invented technology, science and mathematics can also be brought up, but even in modern times, this can be a few pages tacked on to the Glory that was Greece.
- The dark ages: explain how the quest for new knowledge died away, as The Church decided that Aristotle was dogma. Depending on your culture prejudices, you can spend quite a few pages excoriating the Roman Catholic Church. This might also be a good place to throw in the Arab contributions to astronomy and mathematics, but that isn't part of our main story.
- Galileo! Copernicus! Newton! Describe, however dramatically you want to, the breaking of the ice of the dark ages into the dawn of humanism and science. Focus on the fact that people were using experiment and scientific method, rather than dogma. If you want, you can paint this part dramatically, as a group of rebels fighting against the repression of the Catholic Church. For bonus points, you can mention Kepler, Bruno, Descartes or Leibniz, but really you just need to stick with the three mentioned.
- Everything up until the beginning of the 20th century can be covered briefly as "science continued to steadily grow...". Nothing in here is of too much interest to the modern reader. Maxwell might have a gigantic impact on our modern lives, but electrical equations just aren't as spectacular as relativity or quantum physics. So skip to the beginning of the 20th century, and describe how most of the problems in physics had seemingly been solved, but that within a short, explosive amount of time, discoveries were made that set physics and our common view of reality on their heads. Play up the commonsense-defying view of relativity and quantum theory. To go along with this, make the pioneers of the field seem to have wild, unearthly intellects. Tales of their vision and eccentricity are important, especially for Einstein. This is, without cynicism, a very exciting time for physics, and a time when physics intertwined greatly with society. Science and World War II, especially the Manhattan Project makes great reading. The physics involved also takes quite a bit of explanation, and if the math of it starts getting too hard, throw in some diagrams of The Twin Paradox and Schrodinger's Cat. There are many different angles to go with here, but the main idea is to communicate the historical, paradigm-blowing nature of the discoveries and theories.
- Fill in the next section with all the advances made on the work in the previous section. This section isn't likely to be exciting, but it is necessary to explain the filling out of the revolutionary theories. Also, describe big science and recite some figures about the immense amout of power inside modern particle accelerators. That, and a few anecdotes about Richard Feynman provide the pizazz for this section. Otherwise, this is a good section to explain the continued expansion of physics, and the different theories put forward in cosmology, as well as the continuing difficulty in reconciling quantum physics and general relativity. This should lead into the concluding remarks about the current state of physics: whether they be a grocery list of subatomic particles, different versions of cosmology (including the now-venerable string theory), or talk of the technology that is driving the process forward. Some philosophical comments can also be made (usually accompanied by diagrams of the double slit experiment) about the limits of human knowledge, and how we may never find the true answer. Commenting on the interconnectedness of all things is sometimes in order, although it is best not to read too much into physics as a statement about the universe as a whole.
With this guide, you too can publish a best selling pop physics book. Just don't get caught plagiarizing anyone's radioactive-poison-twins-travelling-almost-lightspeed diagrams.