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Coauthored textbooks

  1. Apr 26, 2008 #1
    I cannot imagine writing a math or physics textbook with someone else. I mean it would be so hard for me to reconcile my ideas with another persons. I mean I like collaborating on homework assignments and such. But in each of the subjects I have taken, I have developed a very individual system of logic that works for that subject. And I think everyone else has as well. If I tried to combine my system of logic with someone else's, there would just be so many arguments over like trivial exposition questions that we would get nowhere. Although we can arrive at the same solutions to problems, we all have very different "associations" and "mnemonic" devices for doing this. And that is the reason why it is difficult to coauthor even if both coauthors are totally masters of the material.

    I have also noticed that almost all of the great physics and math books that I know of are written by a single person: Rudin (Mathematical Analysis books), Spivak (Differential Geometry books), Griffiths (QM and EM books), Stewart (Calculus books), Munkres (Topology books), Jackson (E and M book), Shankar (QM book).

    The only exception I can think of right now is Marsden and Hoffman's Basic Complex Analysis and I think Hoffman was more of a sidekick than a coauthor in that case.

    I think coauthored books are a bad omen for the book and also maybe a sign of weakness for the author.

    For instance, consider Thornton and Marion's Classical Dynamics. That is a clear example of what goes wrong when you coauthor. It is in general a pretty decent book. It is understandable and consistent and complete. However, it does not have the classic "feel" like the books of the authors I listed above have. You can almost feel a split personality while reading it. There are no overarching themes in the book. The exposition is bland. There is just nothing special about it.

    Just some thoughts.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2008 #2


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    I remember having text books with two authors where I could tell some chapters were written by the first author, and the others were the by other one. The writing was in completely different styles.

    That would be the easiest way to do it, I think - just divvy up the chapters.
  4. Apr 26, 2008 #3


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    That's how most do it that I know of. Each one does the chapters in their areas of greatest expertise. Though, I think it's best if there's one helping edit/proofread all the chapters to smooth over the stylistic differences.
  5. Apr 26, 2008 #4
    I've thought about this also, quite a bit really. Several factors that I see are that it depends on the logic level--how determined are you to 'do' the 'whole thing'. To make the paper/book 'complete' to the level it must be--do you, or can you, make it 'complete', or does it matter--that is, can it stand by itself. And what kind of book/paper is it? Does it 'need' different perspectives to be 'complete'.
  6. Apr 26, 2008 #5
    It would be kind of nice if someone smoothed over the "who wants to be a mathematician" thread in the Academic Guidance section and compiled it into a book. That would be endless amounts of fun :rofl:.
  7. Apr 26, 2008 #6


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    Yes, it's easier to write the entire book yourself if the knowledge level being conveyed is fairly basic, like high school level, maybe even first year college level depending on the course. But, if you're trying to be more comprehensive and provide upper level subject matter, or keep the book as up-to-date as possible, you need more co-authors to help provide the detail and accuracy needed for that. It's sort of the difference between the 200 page biology textbook for non-majors and the 1200 page text for majors. Very few people know every area of biology well enough to write a good textbook chapter on every topic covered in a majors course and keep it current as well.

    Sometimes multiple authors are also not because multiple people wrote it initially, but that the person who first wrote it has retired and others have since taken over doing the revisions and updates for new editions.
  8. Apr 27, 2008 #7
    It is said that no one ever read Whitehead and Russel's "Principia Mathematica" all the way through. Russel didn't read the parts written by Whitehead and Whitehead didn't read the parts written by Russel.
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