# Books on physics, math.

September 2, 2005 8:14 AM Subscribe

What is a good book for beginning physics?

Specifically, this is for someone currently pursuing a graduate degree in a non-science field (that is logic-focused), but who has some CS background and read a lot of SF growing up. The person is considering working in the field s/he is studying for approx. ten years, meanwhile studying physics, and, depending on his/her level of interest, perhaps changing track into a physics career after ten years. S/he took a lot of advanced math and science courses in high school, including two levels of AP physics, but had a bad experience and turned away, perhaps making a premature decision to leave a field that could be more fulfilling than his/her current chosen path.

A fun, interesting read that at the same time is a re-introduction to physics is what I'm after. A course of books on physics is especially welcome, as well as a series of math books. Also general advice about mid-life career change if you have any. Many thanks.

Specifically, this is for someone currently pursuing a graduate degree in a non-science field (that is logic-focused), but who has some CS background and read a lot of SF growing up. The person is considering working in the field s/he is studying for approx. ten years, meanwhile studying physics, and, depending on his/her level of interest, perhaps changing track into a physics career after ten years. S/he took a lot of advanced math and science courses in high school, including two levels of AP physics, but had a bad experience and turned away, perhaps making a premature decision to leave a field that could be more fulfilling than his/her current chosen path.

A fun, interesting read that at the same time is a re-introduction to physics is what I'm after. A course of books on physics is especially welcome, as well as a series of math books. Also general advice about mid-life career change if you have any. Many thanks.

You might want to consider Feynman's Six Easy Pieces.

posted by cptnrandy at 8:36 AM on September 2, 2005

posted by cptnrandy at 8:36 AM on September 2, 2005

While it is a weighty tome, Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe is all encompassing while only really assuming a very intelligent reader that isn't afraid of some equations.

posted by blueyellow at 8:56 AM on September 2, 2005

posted by blueyellow at 8:56 AM on September 2, 2005

Penrose's latest deals with the forefront of modern physics, i.e. SR/GR/QM/Strings. Let that be your second attack. Feynman's Lectures are good intro. Courant's What is Mathematics? and the Russian 3-volume Mathematics are good math books, as well. Most importantly, you should

posted by Gyan at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2005

*do*i.e. solve problems. Irodov is the book I recommend for that.posted by Gyan at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2005

For someone who is comfortable with math and who has previously been exposed to physics, Feynman's Lectures are a good choice. If you might be interested in something more textbook-like, Halliday and Resnick has become a bit of a standard. I wouldn't buy a new copy (it's overpriced), but if you could find one used.... I'm not a huge fan of sitting down and reading a textbook, but it's a nice reference to have around.

posted by mr_roboto at 9:36 AM on September 2, 2005

posted by mr_roboto at 9:36 AM on September 2, 2005

I got

I've not read the Feynmans listed here but I love his other books so I think everyone should read everything he writes.

One of my little sister's friends, v. smart but still in high school, reads a lot of Brian Greene. I guess he's pretty accessible, and he writes about modern physics research, so might be good for the next step after all the background physics reading.

posted by librarina at 10:21 AM on September 2, 2005

*Understanding Physics*by Isaac Asimov, but haven't read it yet. However, I got it because it's him, and I know he's readable and good in general. The volumes contained are*Motion, Sound, and Heat*,*Light, Magnetism, and Electricity*, and*The Electron, Proton, and Neutron*.I've not read the Feynmans listed here but I love his other books so I think everyone should read everything he writes.

One of my little sister's friends, v. smart but still in high school, reads a lot of Brian Greene. I guess he's pretty accessible, and he writes about modern physics research, so might be good for the next step after all the background physics reading.

posted by librarina at 10:21 AM on September 2, 2005

Instead of Halliday and Resnick, see if you can find an old copy of Sears and Zemanski (sp?), no longer in print.

posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:03 AM on September 2, 2005

posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:03 AM on September 2, 2005

Having helped people through a wide variety of physics books as MIT curriculum changed what they were using, I highly recommend Halliday and Resnick, as others above have. It's just the right mix of easy to read, good explanation, and some really great problems.

I don't like Giancoli as much - the writing never really set well. Though Ohanian has great derivations and problems, it may be more than you're looking for. There's another called

On the less-textbook side, the people recommending

posted by whatzit at 11:28 AM on September 2, 2005

I don't like Giancoli as much - the writing never really set well. Though Ohanian has great derivations and problems, it may be more than you're looking for. There's another called

*University Physics*(Young & Freedman) which is okay, but a little light - it seems to be used more for high school than college physics, from what I've seen.On the less-textbook side, the people recommending

*Cartoon Guide to Physics**are aboslutely right, as are the ones talking about Feynman's lectures.*posted by whatzit at 11:28 AM on September 2, 2005

The teaching company has an excellent course on CD or audio tape by Robert M. Hazen. The sections on Physics are quite good as is the entire 60 lecture course.

posted by jjcurtis at 1:44 PM on September 2, 2005

posted by jjcurtis at 1:44 PM on September 2, 2005

some things worth considering: unless they went to a

especially in math - an AP calculus course will get you through a freshman-level book like halliday and resnick, but to go beyond that he/she will need to learn multivariate/vector calculus and differential equations.

that said, if your friend wants to learn more, a good approach would be to go through halliday and resnick and a good book on differential equations, like this one which i didn't use but apparently has a conversational style which might be appropriate for self-study.

feynman's lectures seconded.

the next step would be to move on to some books that cover courses often taught in the sophomore year. these usually use vector calculus and dif eq.

the course that really drew me into physics was

another intermediate level courses is basic mechanics. this is much more than a rehash of the concepts learned in a freshman course. a good book is fowles and cassiday. goldstein is a graduate level book and too advanced at this point.

david griffiths' introduction to electrodynamics is an excellent look at undergraduate-level E&M. actually,

as a mathematical reference for all this stuff, boas' book on mathematical methods is indispensible. often undergrad curricula include a course that is devoted to mathematical methods.

they will then move on to a book on linear algebra, a book on electronics, a book on quantum mechanics, a book on thermodynamics (ugh), a book on optics and probably a book on solid-state physics. a few topical books depending on their tastes would round out a basic approximation to a physics degree.

while you can teach yourself this stuff if you're really smart and dedicated, it's much MUCH easier if you have the luxury of going to lectures, asking questions, and doing labs.

if they are serious about this, i would recommend trying to find a university nearby where they can enroll as a part-time student and take 1 or 2 courses per semester. 10 years is enough time if they are willing to stick with it through all that. when i was in school there were a few adult part-time students in the physics program and they were liked by all and did very well.

at any rate, good luck to him/her!

posted by sergeant sandwich at 3:10 PM on September 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

**very**challenging high school, the math they did will not really prepare them for an undergraduate-level physics curriculum.especially in math - an AP calculus course will get you through a freshman-level book like halliday and resnick, but to go beyond that he/she will need to learn multivariate/vector calculus and differential equations.

that said, if your friend wants to learn more, a good approach would be to go through halliday and resnick and a good book on differential equations, like this one which i didn't use but apparently has a conversational style which might be appropriate for self-study.

**if your friend is still interested after that:**feynman's lectures seconded.

the next step would be to move on to some books that cover courses often taught in the sophomore year. these usually use vector calculus and dif eq.

the course that really drew me into physics was

**modern physics**; this is kind of a catch-all that covered developments in physics in the late 19th/early 20th century. generally speaking this kind of course brushes on a lot of areas like special relativity, atomic physics, quantum mechanics and condensed matter with broad strokes. i think in an ideal world this material would be integrated into the basic freshman course, but usually it ain't. a good book for this is modern physics by ken krane.another intermediate level courses is basic mechanics. this is much more than a rehash of the concepts learned in a freshman course. a good book is fowles and cassiday. goldstein is a graduate level book and too advanced at this point.

david griffiths' introduction to electrodynamics is an excellent look at undergraduate-level E&M. actually,

**all**of griffiths' books are really good. highly recommended.as a mathematical reference for all this stuff, boas' book on mathematical methods is indispensible. often undergrad curricula include a course that is devoted to mathematical methods.

**if they're STILL not sick of it:**they will then move on to a book on linear algebra, a book on electronics, a book on quantum mechanics, a book on thermodynamics (ugh), a book on optics and probably a book on solid-state physics. a few topical books depending on their tastes would round out a basic approximation to a physics degree.

**word of note:**while you can teach yourself this stuff if you're really smart and dedicated, it's much MUCH easier if you have the luxury of going to lectures, asking questions, and doing labs.

*especially*labs, which really help the concepts you're learning gel.if they are serious about this, i would recommend trying to find a university nearby where they can enroll as a part-time student and take 1 or 2 courses per semester. 10 years is enough time if they are willing to stick with it through all that. when i was in school there were a few adult part-time students in the physics program and they were liked by all and did very well.

at any rate, good luck to him/her!

posted by sergeant sandwich at 3:10 PM on September 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

The sergeant's post reminded me of 1999 Physics Nobel laureate Gerardus 't Hooft's roadmap for autodidacts.

posted by Gyan at 4:15 PM on September 2, 2005

posted by Gyan at 4:15 PM on September 2, 2005

Seconding what sergeant sandwich said including many of the same books!

You can't skip the basics. I happened to love mechanics and EM only so-so and adored particle physics. But my physics degree required me to do all the problem sets.

I may be wierd but I adored Landau and Lifschitz's presentation as in their mechanics books Such a sublime view of the world.

This book (or Halliday and Resnick) is the foundational stuff. You cant really understand quantum mechanics until you get through this stuff.

posted by vacapinta at 4:58 PM on September 2, 2005

You can't skip the basics. I happened to love mechanics and EM only so-so and adored particle physics. But my physics degree required me to do all the problem sets.

I may be wierd but I adored Landau and Lifschitz's presentation as in their mechanics books Such a sublime view of the world.

This book (or Halliday and Resnick) is the foundational stuff. You cant really understand quantum mechanics until you get through this stuff.

posted by vacapinta at 4:58 PM on September 2, 2005

Also, NOVA recently put up a page with "10 top physicistsâ€”two Nobel Prize winners among them" describing e=mc^2.

posted by scazza at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2005

posted by scazza at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2005

This thread is closed to new comments.

You can skim through the physics guide in a few hours and have the "refresher course" your're looking for. It covers basic Newtonian stuff and some quantum stuff as well.

posted by cosmicbandito at 8:34 AM on September 2, 2005