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Do most textbooks not help their readers?

  1. Dec 13, 2017 #1
    I've discovered this essay, which argues that most textbooks are actually written for the authors and not for the readers. I also think that most textbooks are not very helpful after all, but I find the phenomenon still strange.

    Writing a textbook is a long, tedious job and certainly not financially rewarding.

    So what are reasons why most textbooks bad?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2017 #2

    Stephen Tashi

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    Do you find that the site that publishes that little essay (physicstravelguide.com) is superior to other sites explaining physics? It certainly isn't shy about "tooting its own horn".

    Whether a textbook is good or bad depends both on the textbook and the reader of the book. Some readers are not suited for some textbooks. In the context of a course, the usefulness of the textbook depends on the book, the reader, and the lecturer. Some lecturers diverge from the approach of the textbook. (Some lecturers are required to use certain books by their schools.)
  4. Dec 13, 2017 #3
    The reading recommendations on some pages are quite good, but currently there are still too many "gaps".

    I agree that "Some readers are not suited for some textbooks". However connecting readers with those textbooks is a tough problem. However, I still think there are lots of textbooks that are practically useless for most students. On the other hand there are textbooks that are amazing for almost all students.
  5. Dec 13, 2017 #4

    Mister T

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    Textbooks, like all commercial products, are written to be sold to the consumer. But the consumer is the professor, not the student. It's the professor who makes the textbook selection, not the student. It's the professor who receives the sales pitches from the publisher, not the student.

    Just as fishing lures are made to attract the fisherman, not the fish.
  6. Dec 13, 2017 #5
    This makes perfect sense and explains a lot.
  7. Dec 13, 2017 #6


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    Without ever my looking at the essay, I say, forget the essay. Did the textbooks YOU used help your or not help you. Many or most of mine did help ME, the student, and certainly other students.
  8. Dec 14, 2017 #7
    For me textbooks have never really helped me because they are usually 5 to 10 years old, occasionally from the time of the USSR. Plus it does not help that my teachers often make whatever I am learning boring even though I love the subject. I think it primarily is based on how the teacher uses the book and whether or not the teacher gets up to date books. Sadly it often seems that I have learned more on this site or other sites on my own time than from school.
  9. Dec 14, 2017 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    How does that matter for core subjects in a field like physics or math? For recent research you should expect to go to the original papers, or review articles, and that doesn't usually happen until graduate school or late undergraduate.
  10. Dec 14, 2017 #9

    Mister T

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    Some of the newer textbooks may be written in a style that is more to your liking. Physics Education Research (PER) has made significant contributions in the last 25 years or so, and it has affected the way some authors write their textbooks.

    But the bottom line is indeed "So what?"

    Whatever your reason for disliking a textbook, you can always find other textbooks, both paper and electronic versions. They are now inexpensive and plentiful, as long as your source didn't acquire them directly from the publisher.

    If you're bored that's an emotion experienced by you. Many lecturers are boring, and it does make it a challenge to learn from them. It's particularly bad if they are not following a textbook. I've taken many classes like that, but one of them had an interesting twist to it. I soon discovered that this (particularly boring) professor wasn't following the textbook that he had chosen. In fact, he wasn't even using the same notation! But I discovered from talking to students who had taken the course before that the professor liked the book he had used in the past and since it was out of print he couldn't choose it as the textbook for the course. I got my hands on a used copy of that textbook and suddenly his lectures began to at least make sense. He was hard to follow when you didn't know where he was coming from!

    School is for teaching. The learning goes on in your own mind.
  11. Dec 16, 2017 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    I find this difficult to believe, regardless of what the essay says.
    Saying that "most textbooks are not very helpful" is an overly broad statement with no evidence provided to back this claim.
    It's certainly difficult to write a textbook, but authors whose books sell well are rewarded handsomely. In the realm of physics texts, Halliday and Resnick must have done very well. There are also a number of calculus textbooks, such as those by Thomas & Finney (and later, just Thomas), and Stewart, that have done very well.
    "Most"? What evidence can you show that most textbooks are bad?
    That's true, but the professor is likely to attempt to match the textbook's level of presentation with the abilities of the students.
    Of course there are fisherman with widely varying skills, some of whom might get sucked into buying a lure just by its appearance. Skilled fishermen, on the other hand, know what fish are attracted to, and will buy or even make their own lures and flies that are actually functional.
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