Notices
Results 1 to 26 of 26
Like Tree4Likes
  • 1 Post By Kerling
  • 1 Post By Kerling
  • 2 Post By DrRocket

Thread: Recommendations for Textbooks

  1. #1 Recommendations for Textbooks 
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    93
    Hi folks!

    First off I'd like to say that I can see that I'm really going to enjoy visiting this forum. From what I've gleaned so far and from observing the other forum for a while before I joined there are some pleasant, intelligent people here. So thanks for welcoming me to your group!

    The purpose of this thread is to seek out recommendations for textbooks. Iíve decided to start refreshing the basics in quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, analytical mechanics etc. I havenít forgotten this stuff to the point where I couldnít explain it to others but Iíd like to know it much better than I already do.

    Iíve had a dream for a long time to write a textbook on relativistic electrodynamics and to accomplish this task Iíd like to know the subject to the level of ďexpert.Ē I expect this will take about ten years before I start writing it. Meanwhile Iíll be gathering examples and homework problems for the text. One reason that has motivated me to have such a goal is the fact that itís been impossible for me to find a single text that thoroughly covers a wide variety of topics in relativistic EM.

    One very interesting fact that is rarely described in textbooks is a description of how an electrically neutral magnet can become charged when itís rotating (total charge = 0). In fact the only textbook that I know of which describes this is ďClassical Electromagnetic TheoryĒ by Jack Vanderlinde.

    One subject that Iíll be learning cold is Quantum Field Theory. Teachers have told me time and time again that this subject canít be learned through self study. Therefore Iíll be relying on a friend of mine whoís well versed in the theory. He recommended the following text for me to pick up An Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Field Theory, Silvan S. Schweber. He described this as ďan excellent choice-- you couldnít do better.Ē

    So my question is, what are your favorite texts in the following areas

    Classical/Relativistic Electrodynamics
    Classical/Analytical Mechanics
    Quantum Mechanics
    Relativistic Quantum Mechanics
    Quantum Field Theory
    Elementary/High Energy Particle Physics
    Atomic/Nuclear Physics
    Special/General Relativity
    Tensor Analysis
    Differential Geometry
    Mathematical Physics
    Cosmology
    Astrophysics
    Astronomy

    History of physics

    There is a wonderful book called A History of the Theories of Aether & Electricity by E. T. Whittaker, Dover Pub. For some strange reason a new copy of this text is very expansive, which is odd since Dover books are typically very inexpensive. And bookstores are usaully out of stock for it. Why would it be so costly? Any ideas?

    Thanks everyone!
    Reply With Quote  
     

  2. #2  
    Administrator Markus Hanke's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    1,378
    First off I'd like to say that I can see that I'm really going to enjoy visiting this forum. From what I've gleaned so far and from observing the other forum for a while before I joined there are some pleasant, intelligent people here. So thanks for welcoming me to your group!
    Yes, I feel the same way. I think we have a good thing going here; this could become a place of serious scientific discussion and learning without all the crank and crackpot waffle over time. I am really excited about this little platform of ours

    The purpose of this thread is to seek out recommendations for textbooks. Iíve decided to start refreshing the basics in quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, analytical mechanics etc. I havenít forgotten this stuff to the point where I couldnít explain it to others but Iíd like to know it much better than I already do.
    Same here, but for me it is the first time round studying all this in detail; I do not have any formal education in physics or maths.

    One subject that Iíll be learning cold is Quantum Field Theory.
    Yeah, I also have yet to find a textbook for this which suits my needs ( newbie with some basic knowledge ). Recommendations anyone ??

    So my question is, what are your favorite texts in the following areas
    Couldn't really comment much, since I have not yet studied many of these in detail. "Introduction to Electrodynamics" by Griffiths is a good book though, but it might be too basic for your purposes.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  3. #3  
    pmb
    pmb is offline
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    New England
    Posts
    14
    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Yeah, I also have yet to find a textbook for this which suits my needs ( newbie with some basic knowledge ). Recommendations anyone ??
    I also heard that the textbook An Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Field Theory, Silvan S. Schweber is very good. Although I was told that you can't learn QFT by self study. Has anybody else hear that too?

    I have a copy of Griffiths EM text first edition. It's an excellant textbook. All of Griffiths textbooks are very good.

    I myself am interested in the book Classical Mechanics by John R. Taylor. Anyone know this book? What do you think of it?
    Last edited by pmb; 01-22-2013 at 12:02 PM. Reason: Made an error in what I siad, i.e. I thought I said something when in fact it was due to someone else. Plus added more.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  4. #4  
    Administrator Markus Hanke's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    1,378
    Although I was told that you can't learn QFT by self study.
    Ok, we shall see, because that is precisely what I am planning to do
    Reply With Quote  
     

  5. #5  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Copenhagen
    Posts
    106
    Classical/Relativistic Electrodynamics - Jackson 3rd edition Electrodynamics
    Classical/Analytical Mechanics - Most books will do, I never had a book for this
    Quantum Mechanics - None get really close, but for Bransden and Joachain make a concise book, A starter book would be Griffiths introduction to. And Schwalb makes an excellent and concise book for more advanced mathematics in Advanced Quantum Mechanics. Incidentally this would be a good place to start on quantum field theory!
    Relativistic Quantum Mechanics - The above mentioned include this, with exception of Griffiths
    Quantum Field Theory - I had Peskin, but to be honest I haven't remained in the field long enough to be a true contribution
    Elementary/High Energy Particle Physics - Isn't that the same as mentioned above? Probably been perpetuated with theory.
    Atomic/Nuclear Physics That is a big difference, Atomic physics is usually meant with (Opto)Chemical theory books, and the analysis of Atoms. It has little to do with nuclear physics. But generally Nuclear physics is rather simple and straightforward. I can't give you a recommendation on this. So sorry.
    Special/General Relativity - No great recommendations here either. It is just a course that I passed, and didn't pay much attention more to afterwards.
    Tensor Analysis - No idea
    Differential Geometry - No idea
    Mathematical Physics - No idea
    Cosmology - No idea, a good book about magnethydrodynamics is The physics of fluids and plasma by Arnab Rai Choudhuri
    Astrophysics
    Astronomy
    - No idea, then again if you covered electrodynamics, nuclear physics and relativity. And perhaps a large chunk of Optics, then you shouldn't really need these.
    Markus Hanke likes this.
    In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  6. #6  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Copenhagen
    Posts
    106
    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Ok, we shall see, because that is precisely what I am planning to do
    Then in your case too, I'd suggest you firstly read (and Exercise) Schwalb, provided you have a standard background in Quantum Physics (A full and complete Understanding of Griffiths might do the trick, but a Complete understanding of for instance Sakurai is better). After you get 2nd quantizations and propagator's etc. Then Quantum Field Theory is more of understanding the assumptions and the mathematics will be less cumbersome.
    Markus Hanke likes this.
    In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  7. #7  
    Administrator Markus Hanke's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    1,378
    Quote Originally Posted by Kerling View Post
    Then in your case too, I'd suggest you firstly read (and Exercise) Schwalb, provided you have a standard background in Quantum Physics (A full and complete Understanding of Griffiths might do the trick, but a Complete understanding of for instance Sakurai is better). After you get 2nd quantizations and propagator's etc. Then Quantum Field Theory is more of understanding the assumptions and the mathematics will be less cumbersome.
    Ok, this will be a future project for me...I was planning to make a start with Griffiths anyway.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  8. #8  
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    2
    The prescribed text for the astrophysics (introductory) units i took as an undergrad was "Foundations of Astrophysics" by Ryden & Peterson. I don't know how it compares to other books on the subject but it contains a pretty large range of topics. (Astronomy and a brief bit of cosmology complement the astrophysics component)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  9. #9  
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    93
    Quote Originally Posted by Wallaby View Post
    The prescribed text for the astrophysics (introductory) units i took as an undergrad was "Foundations of Astrophysics" by Ryden & Peterson. I don't know how it compares to other books on the subject but it contains a pretty large range of topics. (Astronomy and a brief bit of cosmology complement the astrophysics component)
    Thnks. I'll have to check that one out.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  10. #10  
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    93
    Quote Originally Posted by Wallaby View Post
    The prescribed text for the astrophysics (introductory) units i took as an undergrad was "Foundations of Astrophysics" by Ryden & Peterson. I don't know how it compares to other books on the subject but it contains a pretty large range of topics. (Astronomy and a brief bit of cosmology complement the astrophysics component)
    Thanks. I'll have to check that one out.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  11. #11  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    504
    Quote Originally Posted by Popper View Post
    Hi folks!

    First off I'd like to say that I can see that I'm really going to enjoy visiting this forum. From what I've gleaned so far and from observing the other forum for a while before I joined there are some pleasant, intelligent people here. So thanks for welcoming me to your group!

    The purpose of this thread is to seek out recommendations for textbooks. Iíve decided to start refreshing the basics in quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, analytical mechanics etc. I havenít forgotten this stuff to the point where I couldnít explain it to others but Iíd like to know it much better than I already do.

    Iíve had a dream for a long time to write a textbook on relativistic electrodynamics and to accomplish this task Iíd like to know the subject to the level of ďexpert.Ē I expect this will take about ten years before I start writing it. Meanwhile Iíll be gathering examples and homework problems for the text. One reason that has motivated me to have such a goal is the fact that itís been impossible for me to find a single text that thoroughly covers a wide variety of topics in relativistic EM.

    One very interesting fact that is rarely described in textbooks is a description of how an electrically neutral magnet can become charged when itís rotating (total charge = 0). In fact the only textbook that I know of which describes this is ďClassical Electromagnetic TheoryĒ by Jack Vanderlinde.

    One subject that Iíll be learning cold is Quantum Field Theory. Teachers have told me time and time again that this subject canít be learned through self study. Therefore Iíll be relying on a friend of mine whoís well versed in the theory. He recommended the following text for me to pick up An Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Field Theory, Silvan S. Schweber. He described this as ďan excellent choice-- you couldnít do better.Ē

    So my question is, what are your favorite texts in the following areas

    Classical/Relativistic Electrodynamics
    Classical/Analytical Mechanics
    Quantum Mechanics
    Relativistic Quantum Mechanics
    Quantum Field Theory
    Elementary/High Energy Particle Physics
    Atomic/Nuclear Physics
    Special/General Relativity
    Tensor Analysis
    Differential Geometry
    Mathematical Physics
    Cosmology
    Astrophysics
    Astronomy

    History of physics

    There is a wonderful book called A History of the Theories of Aether & Electricity by E. T. Whittaker, Dover Pub. For some strange reason a new copy of this text is very expansive, which is odd since Dover books are typically very inexpensive. And bookstores are usaully out of stock for it. Why would it be so costly? Any ideas?

    Thanks everyone!
    Note: Before delving into the more specialized books listed below I strongly recommend that procure and read a copy of the 3-volume set The Feynman Lectures on Physics. It is probably the best single physics text ever written and provides an introduction to most of physics through the eyes of Richard Feynman, and there are no better eyes through which to view the entire panorama of physics. The text does not require a great deal of mathematical background, yet is able to address, with deep insight, most of what is known in physics.

    Classical/Relativistic Electrodynamics: First, note that Maxwell''s equations are Lorentz-invariant, and hence classical electrodynamics is automatically relativistic.

    The standard graduate text is Classical Electrodynamics by J.D. Jackson.

    Other good books are Classical Electromagnetic Radiation -- Marion
    Electrodynamics of Continuous Media -- Landau and Lifshitz


    Classical/Analytical Mechanics

    The standard graduate text is Classical Mechanics by Goldstein

    Other good books are: Mechanics -- Landau and Lifshitz
    Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems -- Marion
    Foundations of Mechanics -- Abraham and Marsden
    Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics -- Arnold
    A Treatise on the Analytical Dynamics of Particles and Rigid Bodies -- Whittaker



    Quantum Mechanics

    Quantum Mechanics -- Landau and Lifschitz
    Quantum Mechanics -- Mesiah
    The Principles of Quantum Mechanics -- Dirac
    Quantum Mechanics -- Peebles
    Introduction to Quantum Mechanics -- Griffiths (elementary)
    More than One Mystery -- Silverman

    Note: Weinberg has recently published a new quantum mechanics book. I have not yet seen it, but if his other books are a good guide then this new one will be very good indeed.


    Relativistic Quantum Mechanics
    Quantum Field Theory


    Note: Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Field Theory are really the same thing. It is necessary to introduce fields in order to formulate quantum mechanics in a way that is consistent with special relativity

    Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Relativistic Quanum Fields -- (two separate volumes) Bjorken and Drell
    The Quantum Theory of Fields I, II, III -- Weinberg
    Quantum Electrodynamics -- Feynman
    Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals -- Feynman and Hibbs
    Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell -- Zee
    Quantum Physics, a Functional Integral Point of View -- Glimm and Jaffe
    PCT, Spin and Statistics and All That --Streater and Wightman
    Quantum Field Theory I, Basics in Mathematics and Physics -- Zeidler
    Quantum Field Theory II, Quantum Electrodynamids -- Zeidler

    Elementary/High Energy Particle Physics

    Introduction to High Energy Physics -- Perkins
    Modern Elementary Particle Physics, The Fundamental Particles and Forces? - Kane
    Introduction to Elementary Particles -- Griffiths

    Atomic/Nuclear Physics Note: Atomic physics and Nuclear physics are somewhat different disciplines. Atomic physics is generally considered to be the physics associated with the electromagnetic interaction while nuclear physics involves the strong and weak interactions.

    For atomic physics any of the texts listed above on quantum mechcanics would be good. You might also look at Solid State Physics by Kittel.

    Nuclear physics: Nuclear Physics -- Fermi
    Quantum Chromodynamics -- Greiner and Schafer



    Special/General Relativity:

    Introduction to Special Relativity -- Rindler
    The Geometry of Minkowski Spacetime -- Naber
    Gravitation -- Misner, Thorne and Wheeler (the gold standard for a modern treatment of general relativity)
    Gravitation and Cosmology, Principles and Applications of the General Theory of Relativity -- Weinberg
    General Relativity -- Wald

    Tensor Analysis -- tensor analysis is really a topic in differential geometry. One can find elementary treatments in some physics texts, notably Mathematical Methods in Physics by Arfken


    Differential Geometry : Differential geometry is a huge subject and not an isolated area of mathematics. In order to seriously study differential geometry one needs a solid background in advanced calculus/real analysis, general topology, abstract algebra, and some knowledge of algebraic topology is also useful.

    Differential Geometry -- Michael Spivak (5 vols) (See also Spivak's Calculus on Manifolds for an introductory treatment at the level of advanced calculus)

    Foundations of Differential Geometry -- Kobayashi and Nomizu (not easy but the gold standard for differential geometry)

    Riemannian Geometry -- do Carmo

    Riemannian Geometry -- Peterson

    Differential Geometry -- Lou Auslander (fairly elementary -- but I have a soft spot for Lou, who helped me quite a bit)

    Differential Geometry and Symmetric Spaces -- Helgason (one of my favorites, but it is a bit formal and algebraic in its approach. On the other hand this allows one to develop a tremendous amount of material very quickly.)

    Foundations of Differentiable Manifolds -- Warner

    Differentiable Manifolds -- Hu

    Differential Manifolds -- Serge Lang (assuming you like Lang. I do.)

    Geometry of Manifolds -- Bishop and Crittenden

    Lectures on Differential Geometry -- Schlomo Sternberg (see also his elementary text A Course in Mathematics for Students of Physics which is at a junior/senior undergraduate level)

    Mathematical Physics

    A Course in Mathematical Physics (vols 1-4) -- Thirring
    Analysis on Manifolds and Physics -- Choquet-Bruhata
    Topology and Geometry for Physicists -- Nash and Sen


    Cosmology
    Cosmology -- Weinberg
    Principles of Physical Cosmology -- Peebles
    Cosmological Physics -- Peacock

    Astrophysics and Astronomy

    Introduction to Stellar Astrophysics (vols 1,2) -- Bohn-Vitense
    Stellar Evolution -- Harpaz
    High Energy Astrophysics -- Longair

    History of Physics

    The World of Physics (3 vols) -- Weaver

    As to why Whittaker's books (2 vols) are expensive, I can't say. I don't recall my copy as being too exceptional, given the high price of science books. I do note that the books are out of print, so one is not paying normal Dover prices but rather the market price which is shaped by supply and demand, with the supply being limited.
    Last edited by DrRocket; 02-09-2013 at 01:02 AM.
    Markus Hanke and Ascended like this.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  12. #12  
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    93
    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
    Note: Before delving into the more specialized books listed below I strongly recommend that procure and read a copy of the 3-volume set The Feynman Lectures on Physics.
    Already have it. My advisor gave me the comemorative edition when I was an undergraduate.

    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
    Note: Before delving into the more specialized books listed below I strongly recommend that procure and read a copy of the 3-volume set The Feynman Lectures on Physics.
    Already have it. My advisor gave me the commemorative edition when I was an undergraduate.

    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
    Differential geometry is a huge subject and not an isolated area of mathematics. In order to seriously study differential geometry one needs a solid background in advanced calculus/real analysis, general topology, abstract algebra, and some knowledge of algebraic topology is also useful.
    Any math you have when you study any other math is in general useful. But in this case those studies, while Iím sure are indeed quite helpful, are not prerequisites for such a course of study. In fact Iíd say that one should first learn Differential Geometry before you go and learn topology so as to motivate the concepts. However, since I've never studied topology that's merely an impression.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  13. #13  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    504
    Quote Originally Posted by Popper View Post
    Already have it. My advisor gave me the comemorative edition when I was an undergraduate.


    Already have it. My advisor gave me the commemorative edition when I was an undergraduate.


    Any math you have when you study any other math is in general useful. But in this case those studies, while I’m sure are indeed quite helpful, are not prerequisites for such a course of study. In fact I’d say that one should first learn Differential Geometry before you go and learn topology so as to motivate the concepts. However, since I've never studied topology that's merely an impression.
    However, I have studied topology, and I can assure you that an understanding of basic topology is necessary to understanding not only differential geometry but in fact to understanding calculus and understanding calculus of several variables is absolutely essential to differential geometry. Moreover, one cannot even provide a good definition of a manifold without invoking topology at the very start.

    I most certainly cannot recommend using differential geometry as the intro to topology as opposed to doing it the other way around. I am afraid that if you do that you will a superficial and rather distorted view of both subjects.

    That is not to say that you need an extremely deep background in topology to begin to study geometry. In fact Singer and Thorpe's Lectures on Elementary Topology and Geometry can serve as integrated introduction to both subjects. Manifolds are important examples in topology, and learning topology while emphasizing locally Euclidean spaces (manifolds) is not a bad way to go.

    Learning geometry from physics texts is not particularly recommended either. One gets an impression of understanding when in fact there may be some major gaps in the development -- which would certainly be the case in studying geometry sans any background in basic topology.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  14. #14  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    504
    Update. I have now had a chance to briefly look through Steven Weinberg's new book Lectures on Quantum Mechanics. As one would expect from Weinberg, this is an excellent QM text , aimed at the first year graduate level. I expect this one to become a classic.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  15. #15  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    504
    These books came up in another thread in the context of books on string theory and I am adding the list here for archival purposes, as this thread seems to be a good repository for such information.

    Note: All of these books require quite a bit of background in physics and mathematics and a great deal of what is called "mathematical maturity". They are not for the faint of heart.

    String Theory

    Superstring Theory (2 vols) -- M.B. Green, J.H. Schwarz, E. Witten

    String Theory (2 vols) -- Joseph Polchinski

    String Theory and M-Theory -- Becker, Becker and Schwarz

    A First Course in String Theory -- Zwiebach (this is the most elementary of the books)

    Quantum Fields and Strings: A Course for Mathematicians (2 vols) - Deligne, Kazhdan, Etingof, Morgan, Freed, Morrison, Jeffrey, Witten (ranges from difficult to indecipherable depending on which section and which author)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  16. #16  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    504
    One thing that strikes me as needing to be addressed is the tendancy that I see for people to ask for references regarding advanced topics in physics and mathematics (e.g. quantum field theory, general relativity, differential geometry) who appear to lack the background to appreciate these topics. This is particularly pronounced with mathematics questions.

    In order to understand advnced mathematics one first needs to understand the basics. In particular one needs to understand calculus at a level considerably more sophisticated and rigorous than what is presented in high school or university classes taught in the first two years and labeled "calculus". It is necessary to understand the foundations of the subject and to understand the connection between multivariable calculus, linear algebra and the role of the derivative as an affine approximation to a function.

    These topics are commonly taught in an introductory class in real analysis, and there are quite a few textbooks that address this subject. Two very good ones, texts that have been used for years are:

    Elements of Real Analysis -- Bartle
    Principles of Mathematical Analysis -- Rudin

    Both are excellent texts and contain what you need to know about the subject. They do however, contain a lot of additional material that can be a bit difficult to motivate for those without an already strong mathematical background.

    Howevre, I have recently seen a text that is a bit more focused, eschews many of the "bells and whistles" in order to focus on the core material (while missing nothing crucial) and is therefore a bit more easily accessible to those who have had only a first class in calculus as it is usually taught. Moreover, as textbooks go these days, it is relatively inexpensive. This text, written by an exceptional analyst is

    Foundations of Analysis -- Joseph L. Taylor

    Once you have mastered the material in this sort of test you are then ready to tackle more advanced topics in analysis and elementary differential geometry. Taylor's book would be good preparation for Rudin's Principles of Mathematical Analysis, do Carmo's Differential Geometry nof Curves and Surfaces, Singer and Thorpe's Lecture Notes on Elementary Topology and Geometry, etc. These in turn are the stepping stones to the study of the theory of manifolds which is the heart of general relativity and which one needs in order to understand the motivation and difficulties that attend attempts to develop a theory of quantum gravity.

    Moreover a background in basic real analyis is needed in order to progress to the theory of measure and integration and to the functional analysis that is needed to understand quantum mechanics, and moreso to understand quantum field theories. In that direction to progress beyond the basics of real analysis two excellent texts are:

    Real and Complex Analysis -- Walter Rudin

    Functional Analysis -- Walter Rudin

    These two book would get one far enough in the understanding of complex calculus, measure and integration, Fourier series and transforms, Hilbert spaces, the spectral calculus, Banach spaces and Banach algebras, and the theory of Schwartz distributions to understand what is going on with operators in Hilbert space as one sees it in quantum mechanics.

    It is best to learn to walk before trying to sprint.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  17. #17  
    Administrator Markus Hanke's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    1,378
    I totally appreciate what you are trying to say, DrRocket, and I agree that all of the texts mentioned are necessary to completely understand the subjects in question.
    Unfortunately though, for people like myself who do physics only as a hobby, a very practical problem presents itself - that of available resources. Getting and studying all of these texts takes a long time, and a considerable amount of money given that such academic books are usually quite costly. It is a sad fact of life for me that both time and money are scarce resources - I am working a full time job and a part time job, and have the bills for a family of six to pay. I can only invest a maximum of perhaps an hour a day ( if I'm not too tired ) and not more than one expensive book every couple of months into this; I really wish it was any different, but such is the reality of life for me. I therefore have to make choices - I can't get all of these texts, so my task is always to try and figure out which one provides the most useful, accessible and complete information all in one book for a particular topic. This can be very hard, as topics like GR and quantum physics just seem overwhelmingly complex and involved, and it seems that no matter how many books on the subject you have it is never enough and never complete for a full understanding. All I am hoping to achieve is thus a working knowledge and understanding - I will never become an expert in any one of these fields, but will always remain an amateur. I think that is not a problem though, so long as you know and recognize the limits and shortcomings of your own understanding.

    Perhaps this explains me sometimes asking about the "best" available book about a topic - it is simply because I don't have the resources to get all of the needed ones, so I need to restrict myself to what is practical and achievable.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  18. #18  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    504
    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    I totally appreciate what you are trying to say, DrRocket, and I agree that all of the texts mentioned are necessary to completely understand the subjects in question.
    Unfortunately though, for people like myself who do physics only as a hobby, a very practical problem presents itself - that of available resources. Getting and studying all of these texts takes a long time, and a considerable amount of money given that such academic books are usually quite costly. It is a sad fact of life for me that both time and money are scarce resources - I am working a full time job and a part time job, and have the bills for a family of six to pay. I can only invest a maximum of perhaps an hour a day ( if I'm not too tired ) and not more than one expensive book every couple of months into this; I really wish it was any different, but such is the reality of life for me. I therefore have to make choices - I can't get all of these texts, so my task is always to try and figure out which one provides the most useful, accessible and complete information all in one book for a particular topic. This can be very hard, as topics like GR and quantum physics just seem overwhelmingly complex and involved, and it seems that no matter how many books on the subject you have it is never enough and never complete for a full understanding. All I am hoping to achieve is thus a working knowledge and understanding - I will never become an expert in any one of these fields, but will always remain an amateur. I think that is not a problem though, so long as you know and recognize the limits and shortcomings of your own understanding.

    Perhaps this explains me sometimes asking about the "best" available book about a topic - it is simply because I don't have the resources to get all of the needed ones, so I need to restrict myself to what is practical and achievable.
    I don't think that there is any such thing as the "best" available book without further qualification. It depends on one's background and one's objectives.

    One alternative to buying a lot of books is to borrow them from a library. That approach would allow one to determine if a particular book meets one's personal needs. Some will. Some won't.

    However, there is no royal road to understanding. And that means that one must devote hard work and time to study of difficult subjects. So, to understand a subject one must of necessity first grasp the foundations and prerequisites. That can be done at various levels. Almost nothing is required to read popularizations, of which there are a great many. The risk is that some popularizations are mostly distortions and hype -- which is why I recommend only those popularizations with which I am familiar and which are fundamentally accurate. That generally means only popularizations written by the A-team (Feynman, Weinberg, Wheeler, etc.)

    If you want to understand physics and mathematics at a deeper level, then one must read the hard-core stuff written for serious students. That requires that one start at the bottom and work one's way up in terms of sophistication and more recent work. This is hard work and takes a lot of time. That is just the way that it is. If it were easy then high-level research would not be carried out by people who have spent 3-10 years or so of full-time intense study, but instead anybody could do it. Unfortunately, the era in which significant scientific discoveries could be expected from non-specialists passed about 150 years ago. Science and mathematics have become huge highly developed disciplines and the level of specialization required to make significant contributions is extreme. Laymen no longer have the background to even understand most of the questions, let alone the subtleties required to find solutions. Even highly educated scientists, outside of their personal speciality, often find themselves a bit lost.

    Poor reporting of science contributes to both lack of understanding and lack of appreciation of one's own lack of understanding. You simply cannot trust much of the reporting of topics in science. That is one reason for reliance on explanations by the A-team -- the people who made the contributions in the first place.

    But none of this changes the basic point of my post, which is that one has to first understand the foundational material before proceeding to the fancy stuff. If you are very bright then you can learn the basics and proceed rather quickly. The Taylor whose book I recommended had written what most people would consider two very good PhD dissertations by the time he completed his junior year in college. If you are not quite as brright then it may take you a bit longer. But everyone has to start at the bottom and work up from there. Talkiing about smooth cross-sections of tensor bundles may sound cool, but it is pretty meaningless if you don't really understand even linear algebra.


    As a layman one has zero chance of really understanding cutting-edge research in physis or mathematics. But one does have quite a good chance of understanding the basics of what is actually known. So, one might very profitably read The Feynman Lectures on Physics, which is accessible to bright college freshmen. Moreover, that text was written by one of the very best physicists of all time and contains, at a simple level, most of the physics that Feynman himself understood -- and that is one hell of a lot of physics. It is so good that physics graduate students have been known to use it to review for their general exams.

    What I am saying is that there is quite a bit that one can do as a layman to become educated in physics and mathematics. But that does not mean that one can reasonably expect to understand quantum field theory at a level commensurate with on-going research and to be conversant at that level or be able to actually contribute. Similarly one can understand general relativity at a level that allows one to appreciate it, but one ought not think that one is in a position to argue the subject with people who understand it at a much deeper level (people like Popper serve only to interject confusion for instance).
    Reply With Quote  
     

  19. #19  
    Administrator Markus Hanke's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Ireland
    Posts
    1,378
    But one does have quite a good chance of understanding the basics of what is actually known.
    Yes, and that is pretty much all I am trying to do. Perhaps there is hope
    Reply With Quote  
     

  20. #20  
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Posts
    4
    If anyone has a recommendation for an introductory astronomy text for majors, I would love to hear about it. (I'm looking for astronomy, rather than an astrophysics text, if possible.)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  21. #21  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    out there
    Posts
    306
    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
    One thing that strikes me as needing to be addressed is the tendancy that I see for people to ask for references regarding advanced topics in physics and mathematics (e.g. quantum field theory, general relativity, differential geometry) who appear to lack the background to appreciate these topics. This is particularly pronounced with mathematics questions.
    It appears that attempts at leap frogging are ubiquitous.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  22. #22  
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Posts
    4
    Quote Originally Posted by pikpobedy View Post
    It appears that attempts at leap frogging are ubiquitous.
    This is definitely an unfortunate tendency. People (such as myself) read about all sorts of fascinating, but very advanced concepts in physics, astronomy, and chemistry through popular science books and want to leap-frog over "the boring stuff" to get to the more advanced material, completely unaware of what's waiting for us if we try to get our head around the material without proper training. (Fortunately, I've learned better, though it did take me a while.)

    Or, as a guitarist told me: You have to learn some chords before you can play songs...
    Reply With Quote  
     

  23. #23  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    out there
    Posts
    306
    Right now I am refreshing myself in matrix and vector operations. I knew all that decades ago. That helps.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  24. #24  
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Posts
    4
    At a guess, if you're working on matrix and vector operations, you're several steps ahead of most of the people asking questions about advanced cosmology topics. :P (I include myself in this. I'm currently using Khan Academy to rebuild my math skills from scratch.)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  25. #25  
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    out there
    Posts
    306
    I want to improve my insight into quantum mechanics and without a mastery of these matrix and vector operations I cannot get a grasp when things are written using more abstract notation.
    I like to be able to recognise and instictively have insight when a blackboard is spattered with symbols, graphs and numbers.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  26. #26  
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Posts
    4
    Completely understandable. I'm just guessing that you have a leg up on many of us when it comes to starting level of mathematical knowledge in these areas.
    Reply With Quote  
     

Posting Permissions
  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •