From Big Bang Theory to The Simpsons: The art of the television bookshelf

Every Wednesday, Alex Johnson delves into a unique collection of titles

Alex Johnson
Tuesday 21 August 2018 17:03
Keen-eyed fans have compiled a list of the titles visible on the shelves in Leonard and Sheldon’s sitting room
Keen-eyed fans have compiled a list of the titles visible on the shelves in Leonard and Sheldon’s sitting room

Perspectives of Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser
Handbook of Physics by Walter Benenson et al.
Perspectives in Nuclear Physics at Intermediate Energies edited by Sigfrido Boffi et al
The Particle Explosion by Frank Close et al
Low Temperature Physics by Christian Enss
Fundamentals of Physics (3rd edition) by David Halliday and Robert Resnick
Nonlinear Methods of Spectral Analysis edited by Simon Haykin
The Nature of Solids by Alan Holden
Thermal Physics by Charles Kittel
Electron-Molecule Collisions and Photoionization Processes by Vincent McKoy
Nuclear Forces by Leon Rosenfeld
Physics of Solids under High Pressure by James Schilling and Robert Shelton
Fundamentals of X-Ray and Radium Physics by Joseph Selman
College Physics Fifth Edition, Study Guide and Student Solutions Manual by Raymond Serway et al
New Problems in the Physics of Glass by Vasiliĭ Vasilʹevich Tarasov
Applied Elasticity by Chi-teh Wang
The World of Physics by Jefferson Weaver
Physics of the Atom by Mentzer Wehr and James Richards
Light Scattering Spectra of Solids: Proceedings of the International Conference Held at New York University, New York, September 3-6 edited by George Wright
University Physics by Hugh Young and Roger Freedman

Designers and prop masters put a tremendous amount of thought into building the sets of television shows.

But it’s not just about the sofas and lamps; it’s also important to choose the right books to suit the characters.

Occasionally, most viewers will spot a book they recognise on screen, but some fans go several steps further than that, using their pause button to examine fictional bookcases, desks and entire series in forensic detail.

The list above represents only those books in The Big Bang Theory on the shelves in Sheldon’s and Leonard’s sitting room which are about physics.

Friends: The one where Rachel and Joey read each other’s favourite books (Warner Bros)

There are separate sections listed on The Big Bang Theory wiki for many other subjects including chemistry, nuclear engineering and fiction.

Similarly Mary Jo Watts has painstakingly put together various lists for BBC’s Sherlock series, which not only document what’s on show at 221B Baker Street (drilling down to specific locations such as “On Sherlock’s desk” at her site at but also by episode.

Interesting volumes include Moriarty’s Police Law by WJ Williams and a first edition of Goethe’s Faust in German.

As well as owning books, characters sometimes even read them. There are plenty of literary references in Friends, including the episode in which Phoebe manages to convince Rachel that Jane Eyre is a cyborg. Here is every book that we see being read on screen in all 10 seasons of Friends:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Joey)​
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Phoebe)
Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield (Chandler)
The Shining by Stephen King (Rachel)
What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff (Joey, somewhat surprisingly)
Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About The American Obsession by Studs Terkel (Ross)

Lisa Simpson’s reading choices have prompted an online reading club to be set up in her name

Monica’s boyfriend Julio reads Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, but sadly the scriptwriters made up the feminist bestseller Be Your Own Windkeeper which Monica and Phoebe introduce to Rachel.

One of the series with the highest book count is Gilmore Girls, largely because the lead character Rory is a big reader.

There is even a special Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge in which fans aim to read each of the 339 books read or mentioned in the series. Here’s what she says in her valedictorian speech:

“I live in two worlds, one is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina and strolled down Swann’s Way.”

The Simpsons, America’s longest-running sitcom, also has an impressive book list pedigree, largely thanks to Lisa’s devotion to the written word.

The Lisa Simpson Book Club (online at charts references to works of literature on the show in general and Lisa’s personal picks, which include The Bell Jar by Sylvia​ Plath, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene and The Brothers​ Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

‘A Book of Book Lists’ by Alex Johnson, £7.99, British Library Publishing

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