1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Brief Conceptual Books

  1. Jul 16, 2017 #1
    Dear PFer's,
    I am looking for brief, conceptual books covering several physics fields. They should satisfy the following criteria:
    1) brevity: optimal length between 100 and 200 pages
    2) clarity: typically written by masters, go straight to the point and explain it very well
    3) breadth: they should cover a major domain
    4) depth: in spite of their brevity, they go deep to the core of the matter
    5) originality: they present a non-trivial point of view on the subject matter.
    Exercises or problems are nice to have but not a prerequisite.

    To give you a concrete idea of what I am looking for, here is the list of the books I selected (and carefully read) so far:
    1) Classical Mechanics: "Mechanics" by Landau, Lifsic
    2) Thermodynamics: "Thermodynamics" by Fermi
    3) Statistical Thermodynamics: "Statistical Thermodynamics" by Schroedinger
    4) Relativity: "The Meaning of Relativity" by Einstein.
    After writing down the list, I realized that all authors are Nobel Laureates. That is not required, but looks to me like no coincidence.

    Here is the list of fields I want to cover next, for which I need help:
    5) Electromagnetism: my best candidate is "Electrodynamics and Classical Theory of Fields and Particles" by Barut (not by a Nobel laureate and a bit too long but seems very well written and has lot of good problems)
    6) Quantum Mechanics: candidates are "Notes on Quantum Mechanics" by Fermi (hard to read since it is just handwritten notes with little text) and "Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics" by Von Neumann (too biased towards math, of course)
    7) Quantum Field Theory: my best candidate is "Lectures on Quantum Mechanics" by Dirac, but it seems too focused on a specific problem (quantum theory on curved surfaces).

    Before you post your proposals, let me add a remark: I am NOT looking for textbooks, especially introductory ones. You can safely assume that I have been exposed to the basic material before and I know the required math. If I do not, I will take a detour like I already did, e.g., for tensor calculus.

    Thanks a lot in advance for your help,

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2017 #2
    A QM book that can be read in a couple afternoons is the brief book by Paul Davies:


    though it achieves its brevity by leaving a lot out. This was from a series of brief books covering the major subjects of Physics.

    Older QM texts tended to be more concise, like the one by Dicke and Wittke.

    I think covering E&M in 200 pages is pretty tough. The Barut book is really a "classical fields" book, useful for QFT background but with very little of the traditional E&M material. My favorite E&M book is Schwartz, Principles of Electrodynamics.

    I don't think QFT is a subject that lends itself to brevity. The attempts I've seen just end up being opaque at some point. My current recommendation is Lancaster & Blundell, Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur.

    There have been some brief books on GR by famous authors -- Dirac and Shroedinger, for example -- but I wouldn't particularly recommend any of them. One brief book I highly recommend -- though not as an introduction -- is Tevian Dray's fascinating Differential Forms and the Geometry of General Relativity.
  4. Jul 18, 2017 #3
    Dear Daverz,
    thanks a lot for your reply: it has a lot of good hints. Schwartz's book definitely is a good candidate I was not aware of. QFT for the gifted amateur was already in my short list for QFT: its main drawback is its length - but QFT brevity sounds like an oxymoron. Dulcis in fundo, I did not know Dray's books on relativity: they look very appealing.
    Thanks again,

  5. Jul 18, 2017 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

  6. Jul 18, 2017 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Some brief gems on general relativity and cosmology:

    P.A.M. Dirac, General Theory of Relativity (77 pages)
    It is really incredible how much and how clearly can be said on such a difficult topic in such a short book.

    M. Lachieze-Rey, Cosmology: A First Course (131 pages)
    Probably the lightest non-pop-science book on cosmology. Emphasizes physical concepts without using tensor analysis and other advanced math typical for general relativity.
  7. Jul 18, 2017 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

  8. Jul 18, 2017 #7
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2017
  9. Jul 19, 2017 #8
    Dear Demystifier & smodak,
    thanks a lot for your precious insights. Virtually all your recommended books are worth an in-depth assessment. That will take me some time - probably I'll be able to give you a feedback only after the next week-end.
    Best regards,

  10. Jul 19, 2017 #9

    George Jones

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    "Cosmology for Physicists" by David Lyth

    I would give this book (which In I have on my shelf) the oxymoronic-sounding title "Advanced Cosmology Lite". 156 pages, excluding the appendices. From the preface:
    "This book gives an account of cosmology for those who know physics at the level of a late undergraduate student. It should be useful to practically anybody who is, or has been, such a student. The only exceptions would be those actively engaged in early-universe research, numbering I suppose a few hundred at the present time."

    "A Modern Introduction to Quantum Field Theory" by Michele Maggiore
    Many solve problems.
  11. Jul 21, 2017 #10
    Dear all,
    thanks again for taking the time to share such a well thought out list of gems. Here is the update of my original list, based on your recommendations and a look at the books:

    1) Classical Mechanics: "Mechanics" by Landau, Lifsic
    2) Thermodynamics: "Thermodynamics" by Fermi
    3) Statistical Thermodynamics: "Statistical Thermodynamics" by Schroedinger
    4) Relativity: "The Meaning of Relativity" by Einstein.

    5) Electromagnetism: "Principles of Electrodynamics" by Schwartz (another Nobel laureate!) - hint courtesy of Daverz
    6) Quantum Mechanics: "Lectures on Quantum Theory" by Isham - hint courtesy of Smodak
    7) Quantum Field Theory: "A Pedestrian Approach to Quantum Field Theory" by Harris - hint courtesy of Demystifier.

    I just finished reading Einstein, I will start with Schwartz during the weekend :-)

  12. Jul 23, 2017 #11
    Modern Quantum Field Theory: A Concise Introduction by Tom Banks is a decent brief QFT book inspired by the approach of Mandl's 1959 text.
  13. Jul 24, 2017 #12


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted