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Feynman Lectures on physics?

  1. Dec 5, 2012 #1
    Hi, I live in the U.S. right now, but in a few months I'll be moving to another country. It will be much harder to get books like the Feynman lectures there, so I was wondering if I should get them now (or even at all). How good are they? Are they very difficult? How advanced should I be in math? I've been teaching myself differential calculus the past week or so, and I'm getting started on integral calculus today. Do I need to know much further than that? Also, should I only use the lectures as supplements, or the whole shebang? Or if you don't think I should get them at all, what are other good textbooks/lectures I could get?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2012 #2
    They are awesome. I would recommend every physics major to have the Feynman lectures.

    The Feynman lectures go from easy lectures to hard lectures. Some parts of the book require you to know vector calculus (it is not required, but it's best you know anyway). So the math can get quite advanced. However, many parts of the book also require very little math. So you can start reading them right now, and return to the hard parts later.

    A bit off-topic, but I need to ask: did you really teach yourself derivatives and limits in a week time??

    They are only meant as supplements, not as replacement for an actual text. The best way to use them seems to me to read a topic in an actual physics textbook first, and then check to see what Feynman says about it. Very often, Feynman will give some insights that you didn't have before.

    Also, the Feynman lectures do not contain exercises. And you will want to make lots of exercises. So an actual textbook is also necessary here.
  4. Dec 5, 2012 #3


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    I wouldn't recommend the Feynman lectures as a sole portal to introductory physics. Many physicists, including me, own them and dip into them from time to time to understand things better. They're great because they cut to the heart of the issues and address conceptual problems that other books evade. They're 50 years old now, and that's reason enough by itself not to use them as a sole source of information.

    For someone who's a hotshot and wants to be a professional physicist, the books to work at age 18 with are:

    An introduction to mechanics, Kleppner and Kolenkow
    Electricity and magnetism, Purcell

    Both of these include exercises.

    There's a new edition of Purcell coming out soon, in SI units. Yay!
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2012
  5. Dec 5, 2012 #4


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    More like hardcore workouts :wink:
  6. Dec 5, 2012 #5


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    Actually, now that I think of it, given that the OP is just getting started on calculus, I wouldn't recommend any of the above (Feynman, Kleppner, or Purcell). They all assume complete proficiency with freshman calc, and in fact they're pretty rough going if you aren't at least learning vector calculus concurrently.
  7. Dec 5, 2012 #6
    What would you recommend I use instead (as a main resource)? (I'm 15 by the way, so keep that in mind!)
    Oh, and also, I checked out the Introduction to Mechanics by Kleppner, and it looks great!
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2012
  8. Dec 6, 2012 #7
    Just for the record: Neither one of the following quoted statements is true of The Feynman Lectures on Physics:
    FLP was written to be used as a textbook; For nearly two decades it was the primary textbook in the 2-year introductory physics course required of all Caltech students. (Approximately 20,000 Caltech alumni have used FLP as a textbook!) It is used elsewhere too; For example, Volume II is used as the textbook for an introductory E&M course at the University of Twente.
    Feynman's undergraduate students were freshman (in the first year of the course), and only a small minority of them had any knowledge of calculus before they arrived at Caltech. Almost all took first year calculus simultaneously with the first year of Feynman's course, whose lectures are now embodied in FLP Volume I. That is why Feynman included some (albeit cursory) information about limits, differentiation and integration in his 8th lecture (FLP, Vol I, chapter 8 Motion).

    The above are two popular misconceptions about FLP; To read about others, click here.

    The reason there are no exercises in FLP is because that part of the course was taught separately at Caltech, in recitation sections, where students were assigned homework, given tests and quizzes, and where they discussed their solutions. (Feynman suggested many ideas for exercises, but he did not participate in the recitation sections, which were conducted by other professors, including FLP coauthors Leighton and Sands). Four books of exercises for FLP were published based on those recitation sections, but they have been out of print since the 1960's. My colleagues and I are currently preparing a new exercise book for FLP, based on the old exercise books, which will include about 1000 exercises covering all the main sequence topics in FLP, with answers, and some worked-out solutions given as examples; We hope to publish it in the second half of 2013.

    A third part of the course, arguably as important (for a proper understanding of physics) as the lectures and the recitation sections, were the labs. Indeed, most of the $1 million dollar Ford Foundation grant that funded Feynman's physics course at Caltech was spent on the development of new labs. Very little has been published about the labs that went with the Feynman course, which is something I would like to remedy in the future. For now, if you are curious, you can see all the course materials handed out to Feynman's original students (before the book FLP existed), including lecture notes and summaries, homework assignments, tests and quizzes, lab guidelines and descriptions of experiments, here.

    Mike Gottlieb
    Editor, The Feynman Lectures on Physics New Millennium Edition
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  9. Dec 6, 2012 #8
    Out of curiosity, at the time that Feynman was giving the lectures, were the Caltech students in his class using another textbook? Because Feynman says a few times things like "you'll find that in your textbook" or "your textbook contains ...".
  10. Dec 7, 2012 #9
    I can only find one occurrence of "your textbook" in FLP, in Volume I section 3-7: "We ask: to push a given amount of water through that pipe, how much pressure is needed? No one can analyze it from first principles and the properties of water. If the water flows very slowly, or if we use a thick goo like honey, then we can do it nicely. You will find that in your textbook." (I checked the tape and he actually did say that - it was not edited in later.) It's hard to guess what textbook(s) Feynman might have been referring to, because there was no textbook at all for his first year students. You can see the kinds of materials those students had to work from here. And he could not be referring to FLP because at that point there was no plan to make a textbook from his lectures. So, I am inclined to think he meant "you will find that in textbooks" (in general, not in a particular textbook).
  11. Dec 11, 2012 #10
    I bought the lectures! (and also Schaum's 3000 Solved Problems in Physics). I got the Commemorative Issue, Three Volume Set in paperback. Are there too many errors? Also, is the paperback binding going to last?
  12. Dec 11, 2012 #11
    Since the printing of the Commemorative Issue, ~1200 corrections have been made to FLP (not to mention improvements to numerous figures, expansion and unification of the indexes, and the addition of a symbol table). You can find the corrections listed at www.feynmanlectures.info.

    As for the binding of the Commemorative Issue paperbacks... I don't know; Those are before my time as editor. I own a copy of the hardback Commemorative Issue, which I purchased in 1999, and it has held up well.
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