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Best first book on quantum mechanics

  1. Jul 16, 2014 #1
    Helo all.

    This is my first message in the forum, although I have been reading it for some months.

    I am self studying physics, I have some background on electromagnetism, since I am a Telecommunication engineer. Nowadays, I am refreshing my knowledge on classical mechanics (with Taylor's book), and on EM (with Griffiths' book), and when I am done, I would like to begin with special relativity and quantum mechanics.

    For SR, it seems that there is consensus about the best books to begin with (Taylor-Wheeler, French, Rindler), but not about the best first book on QM.

    I would really appreciate if you could suggest me a good book to begin with QM (Grriffiths, Zettili, Ballentine, Shankar...?).

    Thank you all so much.
     
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  3. Jul 16, 2014 #2

    vanhees71

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    I'm not so sure about Griffiths. Participating in this forum, I've the impression that many people get confused by his textbooks on electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, but I cannot really judge this, because I haven't read the books carefully myself.

    I'd start with J.J. Sakurai, Modern Quantum Mechanics. This gives a good introduction to the formalism without overemphasizing wave mechanics as some older textbooks.

    L. Ballentine, Quantum Mechanics - a modern development,

    is one of the best textbooks written about quantum theory, particularly concerning the formal foundations from symmetry principles (here for the non-relativistic QT the Galilei group) and the conceptional foundations concerning the interpretations of the formalism, based on the strict standpoint of the minimal statistical (ensemble) interpretation.
     
  4. Jul 16, 2014 #3
    I have heard that Ballentine and Sakurai are very good books, but I believe that they are not introductory text, which is what I am looking for actually.

    what do you think?
     
  5. Jul 16, 2014 #4

    UltrafastPED

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    From the book description for J.J. Sakurai, Modern Quantum Mechanics:
    "This best-selling classic sets the standard for the quantum mechanics physics market. It provides a graduate-level, non-historical, modern introduction of quantum mechanical concepts for first year graduate students."

    I don't think this would be suitable for a person who has not already had a course in QM.

    Shankar goes nice and slow, and covers all of the mathematics in sufficient form for a first course.

    Grifffith's is widely used for the first course in QM; I'm very familiar with his book on electrodynamics, and feel that his presentation is very clear in that book. He is primarily a teacher, and it shows in his writing.

    But before either you will want to become familiar with Feynman's volume on Quantum Mechanics.
    His complete lecture series is available online: http://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/
     
  6. Jul 16, 2014 #5

    atyy

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    French and Taylor is a good introductory text. After that you can try Sakurai & Napolitano, Shankar. I personally dislike Ballentine because I find it misleading on issues of interpretation, and prefer Landau and Lifshitz, or Weinberg.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2014
  7. Jul 16, 2014 #6

    WannabeNewton

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    Landau and Lifshitz is extremely good, probably the best QM book in existence, but definitely too advanced; if you want to learn the down-to-Earth physics of QM i.e. the truly exciting calculations in QM and not the tired philosophical ramblings or pedantic formalism then you can't do any better than Landau and Lifshitz. The problems in Landau and Lifshitz are also ridiculously hard which is apparently quite rare in the library of QM books. For now however you should just go with Griffiths because it's the best of the worst of introductory QM. It's basically a cookbook on differential equations and integration by parts but at least it focuses a lot more on actual physics rather than waste tons of time on formalism. This is just my personal taste but I hate books that try to pretend physics is math.

    EDIT: Let me add that almost every book on QM I've personally come across completely butchers the WKB approximation except for Landau and Lifshitz. Given how important WKB is, I would say that's a huge selling point. In fact their treatment of all perturbation methods are quite amazing. Griffiths on the other hand is quite terrible for perturbation methods; his development of degenerate perturbation theory is confusing at best and his chapter on time-dependent perturbation theory should really contain problems that are more varied in applications.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2014
  8. Jul 16, 2014 #7

    bhobba

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    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. Jul 16, 2014 #8
    So, maybe it would be a good idea to read Griffiths, complemented with Shankar for the formalism?
     
  10. Jul 16, 2014 #9

    Demystifier

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    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  11. Jul 16, 2014 #10

    atyy

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    Yes, that's fine. Actually, the subject is so standardized that most books are about the same. Usually for self-studying one has to read expositions from many people, because each book may be obscure on one point for any particular reader. So usually one can ask on this forum, or also google for the many free lecture notes available to see how other people explain a point.

    Overall, I think there are 3 main goals in learning QM:

    1) Learn some calculations in full detail to see that QM really gets numbers that match experimental observations where classical physics cannot even come close. In this respect, the calculation of the blackbody spectrum by Planck is wonderful, because there you can really see classical thermodynamics taken to its limits and failing without QM, but succeeding once QM is incorporated. But other concrete calculations will do just as well - the spectra of atoms, the properties of materials etc.

    2) Learn the abstract structure of QM - Vector space with inner product, operators as observables, wave function collapse, the construction of the Hilbert space for many particles via tensor products. This is important because this structure carries over to quantum field theory without any changes (tiny lie here because of eg. Haag's theorem). For this purpose, apart from Shankar, or Sakurai and Napolitano, many books on quantum computation are very good, eg. Nielsen and Chuang or Preskill's notes http://www.theory.caltech.edu/people/preskill/ph229/#lecture.

    3) Learn about the philosophical problems of QM - the measurement problem, which in Copenhagen is seen by the necessary division of the world into classical and quantum parts. The most important development here, which possibly even Feynman did not known about, is that potential solutions exist, eg. Bohmian mechanics. It is here that I recommend Landau and Lifshitz and Weinberg.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2014
  12. Jul 17, 2014 #11

    vanhees71

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    As you see, you get as many opinions on what's a good QM book as there are physicists. For me Sakurai is the perfect introductory book, because it is NOT historical, modern and not overemphasizing wave mechanics, which was the way quantum mechanics was taught traditionally. I'm not sure about which nominally undergraduate textbook one should recommend. Many are oversimplifying the subject, which ironically makes it more difficult, because you have to forget wrong conceptions built up in the reader's mind. Perhaps a good idea is to look at Suskind's 2nd volume of the "Theoretical Minimum".

    There are excellent older books like Dirac's Principles of Quantum Mechanics, Messiah, Landau+Lifshitz vol. III. Particularly in the latter book you find a lot of applications usually not treated in other textbooks.

    For me Ballentine is, contrary to atyy's opinion, the best book on interpretational issues, because it follows the no-nonsense approach of the minimal statistical interpretation that I prefer myself. Another very good book on this topic is

    A. Peres, Quantum Theory: Methods and Concepts

    but you should deal with interpretation questions only after you have a good working knowledge of quantum theory.

    Weinberg's newest book "Lectures on Quantum Mechanics" is of course a masterpiece as all his textbooks, but it's for sure not good as an introduction into the subject (as is also the case for his QFT books, which are the best textbook on the subject but not for the beginner).
     
  13. Jul 17, 2014 #12

    bhobba

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    I think you can guess my view from my signature - and I don't agree on this one with Atty.

    But no need to start with it - its not a race - start slowly and work your way up.

    Thanks
    Bill
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2014
  14. Mar 18, 2016 #13
    it depends on up to which level you want to read. what i found for beginners who don't want much mathematical work can see" Quantum physics by Robert Eisberg and Robert resnik", for those who want to learn some mathematical algebra of quantum mechanics can see"Principles of Quantum Mechanics by R. Shankar"
    and for advanced level "Advanced quantum mechanics by Sakurai" .
    and if want to be familiar with the beauty of quantum mechanics then "Feynman Lectures on physics vol 3 " is the awsome book.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 18, 2016
  15. Mar 18, 2016 #14

    f95toli

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    Sakurai is indeed a good book, but it would only be suitable as an introductory text if you have a VERY good background in the relevant math (mainly algebra) because otherwise it it very hard going. it is also very focused on the formalism. For most people it is probably be best to start with another more physics oriented book such as Griffith.

    (when I was an undergraduate we used a combination various introductory books, including I believe Griffith, in my first quantum physics course. which I believe was at the beginning of year 3. Sakurai was used in the non-mandatory quantum mechanics course in year 4).
     
  16. Mar 18, 2016 #15
    As an interested layman, I would recommend the Susskind book. I certainly haven't read any of the more advanced texts mentioned here.
     
  17. Mar 18, 2016 #16

    jtbell

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    Necropost alert. :oldwink:
     
  18. Mar 18, 2016 #17

    A. Neumaier

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    Since you are a telecommunication engineer, you probably have enough mathematical background to consider my online book. In any case it could be an excellent complement to one of the other books on quantum mechanics you are reading.

    What's this? The OP was still active here on March 3.
     
  19. Mar 18, 2016 #18

    jtbell

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    Well, I hope he's already gotten started on QM long ago, after more than a year and a half since his OP.
     
  20. Mar 18, 2016 #19

    Demystifier

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    Especially if you are a specialist in Lie algebra aspects of telecommunication engineering. :wink:
    Have you ever seen a book on mathematics for engineers?

    That reminds me of an anecdote I experienced. A mathematician specialized in category theory wanted to do a PhD in mathematical physics, so he needed to learn some physics, especially quantum field theory. So he asked my college (who was a particle phenomenologist and hated any form of too abstract mathematics) to explain something to him. So the mathematician asked: "What is S-matrix?" And the phenomenologist replied: "You know, when you have two particles colliding in the accelerator, blah, blah, ..." The mathematician couldn't understand a word of it. Then I said: "S-matrix is the operator of unitary evolution in the limit of infinite time." And the mathematician was completely happy with that.

    The moral is, to recommend book or explain something to somebody with a different background than mine, I should understand his background first. I must make myself think like him.

    That's why I like to read books on physics at very different levels. Physics for mathematicians, physics for philosophers, physics for theoretical physicists, physics for experimentalists, physics for engineers, physics for dummies, physics for lay people ... If you always read only one kind of physics books, no matter how expert you are in this, you are not qualified to make recommendations for people with a background different from yours.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2016
  21. Mar 18, 2016 #20

    A. Neumaier

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    No Lie algebra background is needed to read my book; whatever is needed in this respect is explained from scratch.

    I know that a good telecommunication engineer will know all the stuff I assume in my book. For I happen know a lot about the mathematics needed in telecommunications - primarily I am an applied mathematician, not a physicist!

    If you don't know which physics books and which telecommunications books I have seen you are not qualified to make such a remark.
     
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