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Classical Classical Electrodynamics by John David Jackson

  1. Strongly Recommend

  2. Lightly Recommend

  3. Lightly don't Recommend

  4. Strongly don't Recommend

  1. Jan 19, 2013 #1
    Last edited: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2013 #2
    While not an entirely unusable book, I think its status as the defacto standard text for graduate level electrodynamics is undeserved. I think there's a tendency among physics instructors to equate "tough" with "good". This is certainly a tough book but—while it does have its uses—that doesn't necessarily automatically endow it with pedagogical effectiveness. I sometimes wonder if there's an initiation ritual aspect to Jackson's popularity—teachers who "survived" Jackson in their own time feel compelled to put their own students through the same ordeal in the interest of "hardening up" the next generation.

    Jackson is good for its (at times heinously) difficult problems as it helps students make the transition from working out solutions to the often very contrived problems one encounters as an undergraduate to working on real world problems. It is not good for actually learning most of the relevant material one encounters in a EM course at this level. I think most of the other popular texts at this level are generally clearer than Jackson and are, on the whole, a much pleasanter, more satisfying educational experience. I have sometimes heard the argument that so-called "tough" (which, more often than not, seems to just mean "poorly written") books are good because struggling with the material forces students to work through the material themselves and fully come to terms with it. Perhaps, but if a student is paying for a course, they are paying to be helped through the material—not beaten senseless with it. The ability to self-learn is certainly a great skill, but if you're being paid to teach then justifying poor pedagogy by saying, "It will force students to teach themselves," is a poor excuse.

    It's a fine idea to use Jackson for supplementary problems to a course, but I can see little justification for using it as a primary text.
  4. Jan 22, 2013 #3
    what about smythe? that one got a couple good reviews on amazon. so does laudau/lifgarbagez
  5. Jan 22, 2013 #4


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    Twenty years after grad school, this is still of the most useful physics textbooks I own. It's clear and well written. As a grad student, the only thing I resented about the book was that many of the homework problems boiled down to expanding something in a Taylor series up to order n, with each term exponentially messier than the last. Usually n seemed to have been chosen such that all the educational benefit was achieved at n-1, and finishing up with order n simply required an extra half hour of tedious calculation.
  6. Jan 22, 2013 #5
    This is the Ultimate Last book on Electrodynamics one read (there is also some book which have problems with higher difficulty than this).I firstly read this after completing Griffith in High School when preparing for IPhO and get bored due to its mathematics and integrals. But for Graduate Course in Physics I will 100% recommend this.
  7. Jan 24, 2013 #6
    The ultimate answer to any detail question you might have about electrodynamics - ever.

    However, if you just want to get a good overview of the topic in general without getting into every single last detail, then it is pure torture. You should have a good working knowledge of electrodynamics (including all the vector math) before you even pick up this book.
  8. Jan 24, 2013 #7
    there is still a very useful book out there known for it's powerful methods of calculation which are not found elsewhere easily.It is also an easier book to go through compared to Jackson.It's name is 'classical electrodynamics' by Julian schwinger. It has some very nice chapters on synchrotron radiation.
  9. Jan 24, 2013 #8


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    I think that this book has an excellent choice of topics, and is reasonably well written. I agree with bcrowell that the educational value of the problems often falls short of the effort required to complete them. One thing I remember about this class was that it gave me experience working through LONG problems and carefully keeping track of all of the terms. Perhaps that is what Jackson was trying to teach, along with the EM?

    While part of the text appears like it is trying to teach the math (green's functions, for example) you are better off knowing the math (eg. how to construct green's functions) before you attempt this book. Also, before Jackson you obviously need upper division undergrad EM, preferably from the physics dept. My upper division EE EM classes were fine for most topics but failed to prepare me for the treatment of relativistic EM in Jackson! Griffiths came to the rescue...

  10. Jan 24, 2013 #9


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    I am curious if any one of you could indulge me: in what sense are the problems in this book extremely difficult? From what I've gathered posted on this thread by jason and the rest, the problems are extremely tedious on the computational side and require a lot of manipulation and approximations etc. but how is the book in the way of problems that require a lot of thinking and creativity i.e. problems that are conceptually difficult but have a very elegant but elusive solution?
  11. Feb 7, 2014 #10
    Jackson Ch. 6 - 10 Classified Mathematically

    I'd love some help in trying to think about chapters 6 - 10 of Jackson


    along the same lines of thought I follow with chapters 1 - 5, as described below. I'm trying to get my head around Jackson, Landau & PDE's all at once...

    It seems as though one can classify almost all of chapters 1 - 4 according to the theory of PDE's:

    Basic Theory:
    Equation: Coulomb & Electric Field [1.1, 1.2, 4.3] or Poisson/Laplace [1.7];
    Solution: Gauss Law [Diff & Int form 1.3,1.4, 4.3], PDE's [1.8 - 1.10]
    Boundary Conditions: Conductors [ch. 2 - 3], Dielectrics [ch. 4]
    Homogeneous PDE's:
    Equation: Laplace;
    Solution: Sep of Var [2.8 - 2.10, 3.1 - 3.7];
    Boundary conditions: Rectangle [Fourier series, 2.8 - 2.11], Spherical [Legendre eq. 3.1 - 3.6, 4.4], Cylindrical [Bessel eq 3.7]
    Inhomogeneous PDE's:
    Equation: Poisson;
    Solution: Green function [1.8 - 1.10] constructed either geometrically [2.1 - 2.7] or via eigenfunctions [3.9 - 3.12];
    Boundary conditions: Rectangle [3.12], Sphere [2.1 - 2.7, 3.11], Cylinder [3.8, 3.11]

    Also there's some conservation of energy stuff [1.5, 1.11, 4.2, 4.7] & some extras [1.12, 1.13, 2.11, 2.12, 3.13, 4.5, 4.6]

    Ch. 5 can be described similarly to the above. Can chapters 6 - 10 be construed in a similar fashion?

    It seems to me that it can:

    Basic Theory:
    Equation: Maxwell's Equations [6.1 - 6.3, 6.6] ---> Homogeneous Wave equation [6.2, 7.1] or Inhomogeneous wave equation [6.2
    Solution: Green function [6.4, 6.5]
    Boundary Conditions: Plane Waves [Reflection/Refraction of] Waveguides, Radiation, Scattering, Diffraction
    Homogeneous PDE's:
    Equation: Homogeneous wave equation [7.1, nowhere else?]
    Boundary Conditions:
    Inhomogeneous PDE's:
    Equation: Inhomogeneous wave equation [6.2, nowhere else?]
    Boundary Conditions:

    Again there is some conservation stuff [6.7 - 6.11, 8.5, 8.8, 9.8, 9.9] and some outliers [6.11 - 6.13].

    This is more or less all I can do right now, I'd think maybe most of ch. 7 is homogeneous unbounded boundary conditions, then chapter 8 is homogeneous pde's w/ boundary conditions (since rectangular & cylindrical waveguides are mentioned) but idk & ch. 9 & 10 are inhomogeneous pde's w/ unbounded & bounded boundary conditions, but the specifics I have no idea about.

    If I knew how to think about this stuff in terms of this classification it'd be immensely easier for me to learn, & only amounts to playing jigsaw with words & concepts for someone who knows, thanks so much
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