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General physics (or EM) book using vector forms for EM

  1. Oct 27, 2012 #1
    So far the best general physics book for EM I've found has been Alonso and Finn. The problem is that I just spent too much time trying to understand electric displacement using the hand-wave magic mathematical definitions they give. The rest of the book seems fine (it gives vector forms for all major equations thus far), but why, for example, is electric displacement not explained using divergence? :cry:

    So, that said, is there a general physics book that gives vector forms for every derivation? More importantly I guess, are the vector forms given using more than just dot products for the linear case? If not, is there an EM undergraduate-level book that explains EM adequately using mathematics without all the dumbing-down?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 27, 2012 #2
    I didn't like Alonso Finn at all I have to say, it always seemed to basic for me. I'd rather use the Berkeley Physics Course Vol 2 if you're looking for a freshman text. But don't expect too much mathematical "complexity" in a first years physics book.

    You may also check "Advanced Engineering Electromagnetics" by Constantine A. Balanis, pretty decent book!

    Also, though not a "book", check the material on the MIT OCW on Physics II, they have some good stuff there all for free!
  4. Oct 27, 2012 #3


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    I second the recommendation by the above poster about using Purcell. It's an extremely beautiful exposition of EM (everything from the derivations and proofs to the problem sets although which get quite difficult). Focus on the physics itself for now and not on what mathematical tools are being used. The mathematics in an undergraduate EM class be it freshman level or junior level is very easy to learn. The physics on the other hard not so much.
  5. Oct 28, 2012 #4
    I'm not trying to learn the mathematics through physics books. The problem is that I already know the mathematics and it's harder to gain the understanding of the physics when everything is done using special linear cases using scalars instead of demonstrating the general case using vectors. And that's precisely the reason why the math for many general physics courses is easy -- it's dumbed-down!

    Last time I looked at the MIT OCW it seemed really juvenile and exactly the problem I have with most physics texts -- formulas given as definitions without proof, tailor-made to whatever will be on the professor's exam and nothing more.

    I've continued with Alonso Finn so far (as far as I've seen it's the best general physics book despite the lack of solved problems) and it seems to be okay. I just wish more effort was spent on showing the physics using div, grad, and curl, but I realize I'll likely never find a general physics book using those since many people aren't exposed to them until subsequent years (which is a shame -- the necessary mathematics courses always seem to have a one year lag time behind the physics courses).

    I've heard about Purcell and I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the recs!

    Edit: Just saw that Purcell doesn't use SI units. If that's true, is there another similar book that does?
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2012
  6. Oct 28, 2012 #5


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    If you want a book that uses vector calculus then check out Griffiths (but it is a junior text not a freshman one like Purcell). Purcell also goes through vector calc but it isn't used much in the problems. I should warn you though that even though Griffiths uses vector calc, the problems that overlap with topics in Purcell don't have much insight at all like the problems in Purcell; they are just mindless computations. Most schools use Purcell for honors intro physics classes and the vector calc is taught to the freshmen students as they go along in the physics class itself because vector calc is very easy to learn.
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