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Classical Electricity and Magnetism by Edward Purcell

  1. Strongly Recommend

  2. Lightly Recommend

  3. Lightly don't Recommend

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  4. Strongly don't Recommend

  1. Jan 20, 2013 #1


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    Table of Contents:
    1. Electrostatics: charges and fields
    2. The electric potential
    3. Electric field around conductors
    4. Electric currents
    5. The fields of moving charges
    6. The magnetic field
    7. Electromagnetic induction
    8. Alternating-current circuits
    9. Maxwell's equations and electromagnetic waves
    10. Electric fields in matter
    11. Magnetic fields in matter
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 26, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2013 #2


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    This is a best-of-breed book. Its highlight is the extensive use of relativity to develop the idea of electromagnetism as the first unified field theory. Although the book does present the mathematical tools of vector calculus from scratch, it is clearly designed for students who are physics majors, have had a substantial high school physics course, and have had strong mathematical preparation. I would not dare to use this book to teach an E&M course to a less elite audience.

    The use of cgs units in this book is IMO a nuisance. Given the book's emphasis on relativity as a link between electricity and magnetism, it's nice to use a system in which E and B have the same units. However, I prefer to handle this by using SI units and writing Maxwell's equations with the coupling constants expressed as k and k/c^2, which makes the relativistic links almost as evident and allows a much easier connection with practical laboratory measurements. There is a 3rd edition coming out in 2013 from Cambridge Press, as Purcell and Morin, and it will have SI units -- yay! I would not recommend buying the 2nd edition at this point.

    The book is extremely old, and although Maxwell's equations haven't changed, some of the discussion of experimental evidence, e.g., bounds on the non-neutrality of the hydrogen atom, are many decades out of date.
  4. Jan 20, 2013 #3


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    Would you recommend Purcell over Griffiths for someone who is looking for a deep conceptual understanding? What I mean is, when the level of mathematics is no issue, would you say the problems in Purcell tend to instill a deeper understanding or the problems in Griffiths or are they about equal? I'm not sure how much relativity Griffiths uses but approaching EM from a SR point of view would be more appealing.
  5. Jan 20, 2013 #4


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    I haven't read Griffiths, but Griffiths is an upper-division book, Purcell lower-division.
  6. Jan 20, 2013 #5


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    Indeed but they don't seem to have much of a difference in terms of content / introductory material and mathematics; neither of them go beyond vector calculus. I was just wondering which had harder problems so I could recommend one over the other as I've only seen the problems in Purcell and not in Griffiths.
  7. Jan 22, 2013 #6


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    (I am only familiar with 2nd edition, as it was the required book for second semester physics)

    This is a fantastic book on classical electromagnetism, designed for freshmen/sophmores (at least in US). The exposition yields significant insight into the physics and is truly enjoyable. Some of the problems are straightforward, while others require significant amounts of work and insight. In principle the book "teaches" the vector calculus that is required, but in reality prior knowledge of vector calculus is highly recommended. The book mostly covers electrostatics, magnetostatics, induction, and fields in matter. Electromagnetic waves are certainly included but not emphasized. A great follow-on book that covers waves brilliantly is "electromagnetic vibrations, waves, and radiation" by Bekefi and Barrett.

    While I really enjoy this book, I am not convinced it is appropriate for most students as a first exposure to the subject. My second semester physics course was based on Purcell and I found it to be too challenging. I had never seen any electromagnetic theory or vector calculus before. Yes, there were a few students in class that seemed to easily grasp everything, but most of us really struggled just to survive. I did learn a lot from the course and the book, but I would have learned even more had the book (or the professor!!!!) been a tad more helpful. Still, the book did capture my imagination and to this day I have a love of electromagnetic theory that was instilled by this book.
  8. Jan 22, 2013 #7


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    The 3rd edition actually came out (either yesterday or today). It was redone by Morin so you can trust it will be good (based on the draft he didn't change the text itself but rather added a slew of more difficult problems about half of which have solutions in the text).
  9. Jan 22, 2013 #8
    The Book is very Low I read it with the whole Berkeley Physics Course (in Academic Year 10) when I have to Appear for AP Physics B.
  10. Jan 22, 2013 #9
    It's about the hardest E&M text for freshmen out there...
  11. Jan 22, 2013 #10
    You used a college-level textbook that uses vector calculus to prepare for an alegbra-based physics exam?
  12. Jan 22, 2013 #11
    What to do, not any Algebra based Physics book was available in my country that time and also I have no PC or Internet to checkout, So I just started with University Physics 12th Ed. and After that this Berkeley.

    This is the same type Question most IPhO preparing student ask, If IPhO don't require calculus in solving their problems then why do show Calculus based Solutions.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2013
  13. Jan 25, 2013 #12


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    At the school I went to, we used Purcell in the upper-division E&M course.
  14. Jan 29, 2013 #13
    Does it still use the cgs system, or has it gone metric?
  15. Jan 29, 2013 #14
    New Editions comes in SI Units.I have 2nd Low Price Edition which is also in SI.
  16. Jan 29, 2013 #15
    Sorry, I meant SI, as you surmised.
    I knew there was a catch in that bargain! I bought it used last year but it's in cgs (first edition, then). Valuable book nonetheless, as all the other volumes of the Berkeley Physics Course.

    Perhaps there should be an entry for the whole set.
  17. Feb 2, 2013 #16
    Actually I should have said (rationalized) MKS. And to be more accurate, my concern was actually about the use of the Gauss system of unit.
    I know for sure that the first edition of Purcell uses k = 1 in the definition of the Coulomb force (please forgive the lack of subscripts, I believe it's clear what I am trying to say here)

    F = q1 q2 / r^2

    (a sample of Maxwell's equations for the first AND second edition:
    div E = 4 π ρ, rot B = 1/c dE/dt + 4 π J / c)

    while most modern em books use

    F = 1/4 π ε q1 q2 / r^2,
    div E = ρ/ε, rot B = 1/c^2 dE/dt + μ J

    So, I was wondering, since I could buy the hardbound 3rd edition at a good price, in which unit system is it cast? Or, to make matter simpler, how are those maxwell's equations written?
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
  18. Feb 7, 2013 #17
    Ok, I could not resist and I ordered it on Amazon (starting from the page in this forum, I hope the 6% transfer has worked all right). It arrived today and yes, the third edition does away with the gaussian units and is actually using a full feathered SI.
    That is, these are the equations it uses

    F = 1/4 π ε q1 q2 / r^2,

    div E = ρ/ε,

    rot B = 1/c^2 dE/dt + μ J​

    (Not true for the second edition though).
  19. Feb 12, 2013 #18


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    How do you reach that conclusion?
  20. Feb 12, 2013 #19
    Are you actually asking? It's common knowledge it's one of the most, if not the most, advanced introductory text books on E&M.
  21. Feb 12, 2013 #20


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    It brings out magnetism using special relativity and talks about the vector potential formulation of maxwell's equations...do you see other standard freshman level EM texts doing this?
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