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A good book that is an indicator of your interest in physics

  1. Dec 4, 2009 #1
    So these last couple of weeks, turning into months, I've been pondering whether to start a whole new career in Physics, but am still unsure of whether it's only that I want to change something in my life or whether it's my actual interest in physics. I don't want to make a bad decision (again?), so I'm gathering as much info as possible and through the help of this board's members the picture of what my options would be after being done with Physics, seems to get clearer and clearer, bearing of course the uncertainty that is inherent in any decision about one's future.

    But added to that, I wanted to look up some books to read to actually see whether I'm interested in physics, or whether the latter merely holds an appeal and charm when looking at it from a safe distance (aka the grass is always greener) or whether I am truly interested in it. The problem here is that I've been trying to get a hold of some books and while I've found some of them on the internet, they seem to have been of a more advanced nature, and I haven't found them THAT interesting to be honest. The thing, though, is that perhaps they weren't interesting because they were too advanced and without knowledge of the basics, it probably gets just overbearing with all the info that you don't know what to do with.

    So I was wondering if you could recommend me a book (perhaps those that are freely available on the internet) that would be a sort of a testing grounds of my interest in physics. I've browsed through the Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by David J. Griffiths and it is more interesting than the others, but I feel as if it is still too advanced for me to really appreciate it. Or should I appreciate it if I truly held an interest in physics?

    Thanks in advance, as always.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 4, 2009 #2
    books that are freely available on the internet? I don't know any of those. Why not pick out some books from the library?

    No physics background correct? I would start with some qualitative physics book like some of the good popular science books. They wouldn't tell you that you're actually interested in doing physics as a career, but at least you'll know if you're interested in the concepts or not.

    If you want more like a text book, I'll start with a modern physics textbook. Those are not difficult to go through, and they introduce many new concepts to you (with some math involve). The one I used is by Tipler.

    I love Griffith's intro to quantum, but I wouldn't have liked it as much without proper background to understand it.
  4. Dec 4, 2009 #3
    Personally, I never found any basic physics text books all that interesting so I can't recommend any. But if you don't know the basics I would recommend, Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku. The only thing you will learn from reading this book is a few laws and maybe a very basic concept or two. However, I found it extremely interesting and it really motivated me to keep learning past the basics so I could get to the more interesting stuff. Just because you find this book interesting doesn't mean Physics is right for you, but its a start and its a good read.
  5. Dec 4, 2009 #4
    You might also want to consider that an interest in physics and an interest in a physics career can be two entirely different things. Be careful about how much you take away from introductory readings. There is a lot of great info on here about physics careers. You might also want to check out AIP site and BLS physics page some basic statistics and information.
  6. Dec 4, 2009 #5
    Very good advice here. I have a huge interest in physics but know that a career in physics wouldn't be ideal for me. I'm just glad I was able to realize this before I wasted 4 years of my life getting a degree in physics. Make sure you figure this out before you make any life changing decisions.
  7. Dec 4, 2009 #6


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    Before reading Griffith's book on quantum mechanics, you should consider a lower level text, like Resnick-Halliday's Physics or Fundamentals of Physics. There is the basics of physics with many exercises you might do during your first year at University if you major in Physics.
    You must also learn the math along the physics. I don't know your math background. Does Calculus means something to you? If so then you're ready for Resnick-Halliday.
  8. Dec 4, 2009 #7
    I would strongly recommend this one, and it's free: http://www.lightandmatter.com/

    It is designed as a first year text, for arts majors, so it's pretty basic, but some of the questions are far more difficult (conceptually) and thought invoking than what I have found in the typical science majors text.

    The author is obviously passionate about the material, and he does a very good job explaining key concepts with simple, exact language. There's quite a bit of history and other interesting anecdotes in there as well. Additionally, there are sections which allow you to take advantage of calculus, if you know it, to work on some more interesting problems. It covers a wide range of all the things a person might cover in first year, and I think it would be an excellent text to do some self study with, in order to prepare for first year.
  9. Dec 4, 2009 #8
    Thanks everyone for the suggestions and insight, I guess I'll check out a couple more books, though it seems it's really hard to find that make-or-break book that would give me a definitive answer on whether I *really* want to study physics or not.

    And yes, this is indeed great advice, and a couple of weeks ago, which was before I started checking out career options, I thought for sure I'm gonna apply to a Physics programme. But learning more of the jobs available for physics graduates, doubt came into the picture and it seems you really hit it on the nail with the first sentence. Perhaps it really is that I'm only interested in physics as such and perhaps even only from more of a general level, but I'm still unsure of whether that's just uncertainty and fear of screwing myself over with a career change kicking in. And well, that was exactly why I wanted to get a hold of some book that would be considered interested by those doing Physics, but perhaps not popular sciency enough for the general public to like it.

    As for that info you suggested, I already looked that up and unfortunately it hasn't really contributed much to a decision in any direction. On one hand, there are jobs that I think I'd like to do, but on the other hand, such jobs seem to be reserved for PhD's, with those that the B.Sc. degree holders get not really holding an appeal.

    Well, I guess I could go to the library, but first I wanted to get an answer to what book I would be actually looking for.

    I wouldn't say I don't have a physics background, as I've done 4 years in high school. The problem, though, is that that was 6 years ago, so while I remember the general stuff, I forgot the specifics, along with some maths (integrals and such, for example), making it harder to follow the equations. Plus, I don't live in an English speaking country, so perhaps some of the symbols used - and the language of course - is new to me, so that may be yet another factor putting me off or at least confounding my judgment as to what it is that prevents me from delving deeper and with more interest into the books I've picked up so far.

    Yeah, and that's basically what I'm afraid of, that I'm the one without proper background to understand it, and that it's not the actual concepts that don't interest me.
  10. Dec 5, 2009 #9


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  11. Dec 5, 2009 #10
    The Feynman Lectures are an obvious recommendation.

    I'd also suggest an older edition of Resnick & Haliday, Physics, such as the 3rd edition.
  12. Dec 6, 2009 #11
    Thanks for the Feynman Lectures suggestion, this book seems simple enough to gradually get into it, but complex enough to not only scratch the surface. Though, I'm wondering how relevant some of the stuff taught in there is from the perspective of new findings? Obviously, I'm not talking about classical mechanics, electro-magnetism and such, but as far as quantum mechanics are concerned, I'd guess there have been some new theories developed since the 60's. I might be wrong though, as this is purely a guess.
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