# Electrodynamics: Ohanian vs. Wangsness

• Classical
Hi guys, I'm just curious about how does Classical Electrodynamics by Hans Ohanian and Electromagnetic Fields by Ronald Wangsness compare? I know Griffiths is like the way to go when it comes to EM, but personally, I find his book too hand wavy and the explanations are sometimes lacking, so I decided if ever I'm going to review or choose a reference in EM what would it be aside from Griffiths? I saw few reviews about Ohanian having the "relativistic" feel in his book (which I think will be good) but I want to get more comments.

Last edited:

Dr Transport
Gold Member
My favorite EM text of all time is Wangsness, he is concise, methodical and uses consistent notation throughout the entire text. You can read his text, work thru the theory and then apply it at the end for the homework problems. His is the only text I have seen where they teach you to set up ALL electrostatic and magnetostatic problems regardless of symmetry in Cartesian coordinates then convert to cylindrical or spherical for the final integration and that is the only way to do it, if you don't you get lucky if you get the correct answer.

A friend of mine didn't know about Wangsness and decided to go and use it after teaching out of Griffiths for a couple of years, I can't really say anything good about Griffiths.

As for the "relativistic" feel of Ohanian I can't tell you anything.

My copy has disappeared in the past month or so, gotta look for it.

My favorite EM text of all time is Wangsness, he is concise, methodical and uses consistent notation throughout the entire text. You can read his text, work thru the theory and then apply it at the end for the homework problems. His is the only text I have seen where they teach you to set up ALL electrostatic and magnetostatic problems regardless of symmetry in Cartesian coordinates then convert to cylindrical or spherical for the final integration and that is the only way to do it, if you don't you get lucky if you get the correct answer.

A friend of mine didn't know about Wangsness and decided to go and use it after teaching out of Griffiths for a couple of years, I can't really say anything good about Griffiths.

As for the "relativistic" feel of Ohanian I can't tell you anything.

My copy has disappeared in the past month or so, gotta look for it.
Thanks for your comment, I don't know much about wangsness but I've heard few mixed response about his book. What exactly are the aspects that makes his book better than griffiths?

Dr Transport
Gold Member
Thanks for your comment, I don't know much about wangsness but I've heard few mixed response about his book. What exactly are the aspects that makes his book better than griffiths?

Sorry, I think I should say it differently, is the difference between griffiths and wangsness really big? Big enough so that I should replace griffiths? Also, I'm confused about the positive reviews about griffiths, I find most of them not true. I'm wondering where are those coming from.

Dr Transport
Gold Member
Sorry, I think I should say it differently, is the difference between griffiths and wangsness really big? Big enough so that I should replace griffiths? Also, I'm confused about the positive reviews about griffiths, I find most of them not true. I'm wondering where are those coming from.

If you already have it, keep it, you'll most likely be using it in a course, it seems to be the de-facto standard. Wangsness is out of print, i think, that is why it isn't used more. Wangsness puts everything into it's own chapter/section, Griffiths tends to ramble on and put out too much info in a couple of chapters.

As for the positive reviews, I can't tell you, I am just not enamored with Griffiths even after having been forced to teach out of it.

If you already have it, keep it, you'll most likely be using it in a course, it seems to be the de-facto standard. Wangsness is out of print, i think, that is why it isn't used more. Wangsness puts everything into it's own chapter/section, Griffiths tends to ramble on and put out too much info in a couple of chapters.

As for the positive reviews, I can't tell you, I am just not enamored with Griffiths even after having been forced to teach out of it.
How about the special relativity part of wangsness? Is it also good? I hope somebody could also comment on Ohanian.

atyy
Ohanian is absolutely worth a read because of his treatment of relativity. It's a bit like the advanced version of Purcell's argument that magnetic effects follow from relativity.

Ohanian is absolutely worth a read because of his treatment of relativity. It's a bit like the advanced version of Purcell's argument that magnetic effects follow from relativity.
Yes, that also intrigued me. I feel that his treatment of relativity is very compelling but I can only choose one, so which is a better investment? Wangsness or Ohanian? Is Wangsness' treatment of relativity good?

atyy
Yes, that also intrigued me. I feel that his treatment of relativity is very compelling but I can only choose one, so which is a better investment? Wangsness or Ohanian? Is Wangsness' treatment of relativity good?

I've never read Wangsness. You can just stick with Griffiths and borrow the others from the library.

If you already have it, keep it, you'll most likely be using it in a course, it seems to be the de-facto standard. Wangsness is out of print, i think, that is why it isn't used more. Wangsness puts everything into it's own chapter/section, Griffiths tends to ramble on and put out too much info in a couple of chapters.

As for the positive reviews, I can't tell you, I am just not enamored with Griffiths even after having been forced to teach out of it.
Dr Transport, is wangsness using ict convention for the special relativity part?

I've never read Wangsness. You can just stick with Griffiths and borrow the others from the library.
I have a friend who is in undergrad, he already took EM at the level of Halliday, is Ohanian's book good for upper undergrad/ alternative to griffiths?

Dr Transport
Gold Member
Dr Transport, is wangsness using ict convention for the special relativity part?
I don't recall, like I said, my copy has been packed away for my move and I can't remember what box it is in....

I don't recall, like I said, my copy has been packed away for my move and I can't remember what box it is in....

I bought Wangness and I liked it although I never used it for a course. I did not study it in detail. I also bought Ohanian, and read it in greater depth. I also had the advantage in sitting in on a general relativity course that Ohanian taught. When I read Ohanian, I could hear his voice in my ear. Ohanian does indeed treat radiation relativistically. However, I think he uses physical insight to explain terms he drops in deriving the Lienhard Weichert potentials, OK, but I think Melvin Schwartz's (inexpensive) Dover book derives the Lienhard Weichert more rigorously, in greater detail.

All told, I let a friend borrow Wangness for a indefinite time, and never missed it. I kept my Ohanian,and I like it better. I also have Griffith and I do feel it is very hand-wavy. As an undergrad I liked Lorrain and Corson for the first semester, and Marion Classical Electromagnetic Radiation for the second. This was OK

Staff Emeritus
2021 Award
I have not looked at Ohanian, but I did buy a copy of Wangsness in grad school to study alongside Jackson. It's section on SR is sort of an afterthought, and is neither great nor terrible. On the plus side, it mentions the Trouton-Noble experiment. On the minus, it uses ict everywhere.

vanhees71
Gold Member
2021 Award
Dr Transport, is wangsness using ict convention for the special relativity part?
Yes he is. That's the show stopper :-(. Of course, it's also not very encouraging that he brings relativity as the last chapter in a text about a (if not the paradigmatic) relativistic field theory.

Dr Transport
Gold Member
Yes he is. That's the show stopper :-(. Of course, it's also not very encouraging that he brings relativity as the last chapter in a text about a (if not the paradigmatic) relativistic field theory.

I don't see any problem in that, I didn't teach that material to any of my undergraduates when I was teaching, leave it for graduate school. I lied the text because I found it to be the best undergraduate text available and our department syllabus didn't require us to teach any relativistic formalism in the curricula at the time.

Hi guys, I'm just curious about how does Classical Electrodynamics by Hans Ohanian and Electromagnetic Fields by Ronald Wangsness compare? I know Griffiths is like the way to go when it comes to EM, but personally, I find his book too hand wavy and the explanations are sometimes lacking, so I decided if ever I'm going to review or choose a reference in EM what would it be aside from Griffiths? I saw few reviews about Ohanian having the "relativistic" feel in his book (which I think will be good) but I want to get more comments.

I know it's late, but if you have tried Ohanian can you tell me about it? I am in the same predicament as you were a few years ago. Griffiths and Purcell seem too handwavy while others like Schwartz and Greiner don't look friendly for me. Also, there is the lure of relativity in Ohanian. so, would you recommend it?

vanhees71
vanhees71
Gold Member
2021 Award
From the undergraduate literature I find Griffiths pretty good and modern, given that he discusses also the relativistic point of view (which of course makes classical electrodynamics much simpler and more consistent, which is no surprise given that it's a relativistic classical field theory). Purcell (the E&M volume of the Berkeley physics course) is more confusing than helpful. I think it's overly didactical, trying to do relativity without the adequate mathematical tools, which is of course tensor calculus in Minkowski space. I don't know, what you dislike concerning Schwartz, which for me is the best "relativity first" approach at the undergrad level. Greiner's E&M volume is very conventional, i.e., bringing the relativistic description only at the end and then, horribile dictu, using the ##\mathrm{i} c t## convention. Although in general, of course, I like Greiner's series, this is a great obstacle. In other volumes he uses the modern real formulation (in the west-coast convention).

On the graduate level for me still the best modern "relativity first" approach to E&M is Landau&Lifshitz vol. 2. It's full of other gems too.

dextercioby and Gaurang
Isn't Griffiths also conventional in the sense that he also discusses relativity(electromagnetism in relativity) at the end in just a few pages? from the looks of it ohanian looked just like griffiths but introduces relativity before magnetism (proper relativity, with four vectors and tensors, he is giving tensors in first chapter itself).

For Melvin Schwartz, actually, I don't know much about it. I have only glanced over it a bit and it seemed too mathematical to me also given the page count I have doubts on how much theoretical description would he be able to give in the book. Thanks for your reply btw.

also for future references, there is one other book that also begins electrodynamics straight from relativity its by Charles brau which he states in his preface is inspired by L&L I have yet to reach at the level where I can do either of them. Just pinning it here in case someone wants something similar in future.

vanhees71
Gold Member
2021 Award
I don't know the book by Ohanian, but indeed Griffiths is pretty conventional too, but I think it has much more interesting material on relativity than usually discussed at the undergrad level, particularly the idea of "hidden momentum" (a misnomer of course, because there's nothing hidden; it's just momentum of charged particles and the em. field, but the terminology somehow got common for whatever reason).

The book by Schwartz is a bit unconventional but offers a lot of insights. Compared to Purcell I liked it much more because of the math. To avoid math in an attempt to be pedagogical is no good service to students, because math is the only language we can precisely talk about physics. If your language is not precise enough it gets hard to explain for the teacher and even harder to understand for the student than with the adequate level. For classical E&M you need a good grasp of tensor analysis. For the conventional approach you need 3D Euclidean vector analysis (a real tensor field occurs only when it comes to the Maxwell stress tensor), for the relativistic approach 4D Minkowskian tensor analysis, but as a physicist you have to learn it anyway, and it doesn't hurt much to do so early.

I don't know the book by Brau.

Gaurang
Now that I look at it, in his preface, Ohanian states that he used to teach the course of electrodynamics from Schwartz and has developed his book from lecture notes given using that book itself. As much as I am delighted by this coincidence I am also confused :)
One more question, is Schwartz a viable alternative for griffiths, like would i still need to do griffiths if I do schwartz. Now I am really considering this book thank you so much for your recommendation.

on that hidden momentum by the way, is it the generalized momentum arising due to the fact that the generalized electromagnetic potential (as it is used in Lagrangian formulation) is a function of velocity?

Last edited:
vanhees71