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Best physics textbook to prepare for college?

  1. Oct 17, 2009 #1
    Hi, I was wondering about your opinions and recommendations on some physics texts, both free and costly. In about a half a year I'm going off to college, but I'm not sure if I'm ready for college yet. By that I mean I'm not prepared to make all A's, which I'm aiming for. But of course, my asking this isn't solely on grades themselves, but I want to actually start "learning" which I haven't been doing much of my years in high school because I absolutely hated learning stuff. But now, in my senior year, I feel as if learning is the best thing anyone can do. So I'm looking for a good introductory physics textbook based on calculus, and I would appreciate your help! Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 26, 2009 #2
    Feynman Lectures in Physics- Feynman
    Theoretical Physics- Georg Joos
  4. Oct 26, 2009 #3

    Andy Resnick

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  5. Oct 28, 2009 #4
    Not Resnick & Halliday?!

    I second the Feynman Lectures, and old editions of Resnick & Halliday would also be good. Also look back through older threads in the forum recommending some inspiring popular and semi-popular books.
  6. Oct 28, 2009 #5
    I would STRONGLY recommend Georg Joos' book but

    1) You need to be very proficient in single variable calculus and be able to digest the good but dense mathematical introduction. But this is what you are looking for.

    2) It is not the usual introduction(like Halliday & Resnik), it is very theoretical as the name implies, therefore it is useless in a freshmen physics class. However, I think it is an insightful read. Physicist Freeman Dyson learned a lot of his physics from this book.
    Citation: http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4585.html
  7. Nov 1, 2009 #6
    I disagree with the suggestions of Feynman's lectures and especially with the Joos book. I would consider the Joos book very advanced, something that would best be tackled after 3-4 semesters of calculus and differential equations. I have read that the course taught at Caltech by Feynman, which is the course that his lecture books were made out of, was actually not a very successful course. Again, that was to Caltech freshman. I'm not downplaying his lecture notes, as I haven't even really read them, but I'm not for sure they're the best suggestion here.

    You are in your senior year, so most likely you are just learning calculus starting this fall. This makes the Joos book a horrible suggestion. My suggestions are:

    1) https://www.amazon.com/Understandin...sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257111464&sr=1-1" by Isaac Asimov
    This book has very little math in it and reads more like a novel of physics. It will give you a history and timeline of physics, built up from a foundation and continued up through particle physics (which is a little out of date due to the books publication date). The book will also help build the all important intuition.

    2) https://www.amazon.com/Head-First-P...anics/dp/0596102372/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top"
    Please, please, please do not be thrown off by its apparent silliness. I have three other books in the Head First series and they do not disappoint. They have good technical knowledge in them, but are very fun. It will give you a solid foundation in basic mechanics, which is where most freshman physics courses start off. I learned HTML and Java from Head First, and a friend who used their statistics book for help in a university level statistics course was pleased as well.

    3) https://www.amazon.com/Calculus-Mic...sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257111751&sr=8-1" by Richard Courant
    There is also an https://www.amazon.com/Introduction...sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257110854&sr=8-1" of Courant's book. If you read and work through either of these books, your understanding of calculus will be much improved and very strong. In my experience, the calculus learned in high school is almost worthless. I have taught calculus to freshman for three semesters now, in three different disciplines, and it is almost impossible to be able to pick out which students have had calculus before beyond the first week or so. So build up your calculus and make sure you understand it, intuitively and technically. These two books are the best for that job.

    My basic suggestions are to not plunge ahead through books like Feynman, which will assume knowledge of calculus, or Joos, which greatly assumes knowledge of calculus. From my experiences in university, you will not be taught a lot of intuition, but rather a lot of technical knowledge. It is a good idea to build your intuition and true understanding through solid foundations than to just jump ahead into advanced material. The Halliday/Resnick book is not a bad suggestion though as it is what a lot of universities use to teach freshman physics.

    I also second the recommendation of picking up some more popular type books. I suggest anything by George Gamow. I loved his Gravity book and look forward to reading his others. I cannot emphasize enough that if you have the bigger picture going into your university studies, you will be light-years ahead of the other students. It will also make the technical learning more digestible and motivated because you know where you'll be headed.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  8. Nov 1, 2009 #7
    "Physics" by Resnick and Halliday is a good one, it isn't a very easy textbook though (at least not to me). Mind you, it's called "Physics", it isn't the same as "Fundamental of Physics" by the same authors.

    I don't think Courant's or Spivak's calculus books would be ideal for someone taking calculus for their physics education. You'd probably be better off studying non-rigourous calculus for the computations before starting analysis type calculus like Courant and Spivak. For example, it'll take you a while to get to the integration chapters on the Spivak book, you'll want to study everything very thoroughly
  9. Nov 1, 2009 #8
    I disagree with this. These two textbooks are by no means analysis books. They are rigorous calculus texts, and there is a difference. If someone wants to learn from them, they are more than welcome to skip the proofs the first time through, but these texts, in addition to containing rigor, also present the same material taught in the standard calculus courses that use say Calculus by James Stewart. Stewart's book is very computational, not rigorous, boring, and written by a guy who has no problem releasing multiple editions to fund his http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123...8&s=SB123869600484183257&articleTabs=article". My opinion and advice is to learn calculus and learn it right, not through a bastardization such as Stewart. I should mention that Richard Courant wrote, along with David Hilbert, the well known Methods of Mathematical Physics, so he definitely has applications in mind.

    If you want to do more advanced physics and particularly if you want to go to graduate school, you want to learn mathematics as well as you can. I have spoken with a physics professor in the graduate program at my school who mentioned that one thing they concentrate on for their incoming graduate students is building up their mathematics skills.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  10. Nov 1, 2009 #9
    I never said that it was an analysis book, I said that it was analysis-like, in the sense that it tries to prepare you for a path in rigourous mathematics (analysis). It might take the reader a bit more time to get to the concepts more applicable to physics. You probably should do this sooner or later, or if you really wanted to, concurrently; but it isn't a bad idea to start non-rigourous calculus before proof based calculus - that's if you care a lot more about physics than you do about mathematics.

    I agree that Stewart's book is up to no good, but there are others
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  11. Nov 1, 2009 #10
    OP, do yourself a favor and buy yourself Schaum's Outline of College Physics and Schaum's 3000 solved problems in Physics. Alternatively, REA Physics Problem Solver. Read the motion mountain book to get some conceptual ideas, but then work out problems.

    For calculus, go to http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/resources/Strang/strangtext.htm and get a FREE textbook by quite a decent teacher with a complimentary free solutions manual. Again, work out problems.
  12. Nov 1, 2009 #11
    While I like Spivak's book a great deal, it is probably not the best intro to Calc unless you are already quite strong at math.

    Stewart gets a hammering in this forum, but the book is not bad for beginners - just don't pay for a new edition. However, I would suggest Swokowski as a better general alternative. It is not quite as rigorous as Spivak but a lot easier for people new to calculus.

    Just a note to the OP - it may seem strange that a request for physics textbooks gets you recommendations for calc books. However, the more Calculus you know, the easier physics becomes when you get to it. This is true all the way through your undergrad work - the further ahead you are in Calc, the easier the Physics...
  13. Nov 2, 2009 #12
    My viewpoint on Spivak and Courant is this: the original poster is in high school and requested some physics books based upon calculus. This means that they are probably currently enrolled in some senior level high school calculus course, which are focused on computation. The university courses they will take next year are heavily weighted down by calculation upon calculation, and students often lose site of the calculus because of all this. It is even boring to teach because books concentrate on calculations so much. If the original poster has around half a year to learn, why not learn calculus the right way? They can of course just skim over or skip the harder proofs and come back to them. They can also pick and choose certain exercises.

    This relates back to my suggestions for more basic physics books. I think the goal is to learn the foundations solidly while getting the overall picture. Oftentimes, students have this false sense of security because they can do a bunch of fancy calculations, but don't have any real understanding of the underlying principles. Yes, Spivak and Courant are more rigorous, but why is that so bad? Why are people in such a hurry? A good high school student should be able to conquer them.

    On a side note, I have previously heard good things about https://www.amazon.com/Calculus-Int...sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257141776&sr=8-3", which contains a solutions manual that is distributed by the publisher (Dover) on request. These are always helpful for self-study.

    There is also a student's manual for Spivak.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  14. Nov 2, 2009 #13
    Sorry - I had missed this point. You are absolutely right.
  15. Nov 2, 2009 #14
    That's basically my point, it's a very good book - but probably not the most ideal given a certain situation

    Maybe, but from where I live, high school calculus is nothing at all.. unless you took AP calculus then you can probably go ahead with Spivak
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
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