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Other Hecht vs Fowler for optics

  1. Jan 21, 2016 #1
    I'm reading Hecht's book on optics and am absolutely hating it. The derivations are not rigorous and have many, many holes. They use unnecessary presentations (no div-grad-curl presentation of M's equations and instead writing out each of the 100 derivatives involved explicitly). Horrible book. I think I'm hating it with such a passion because I've already taken upper-level EM courses and this book seems to be for people who don't have that background.

    But this is the book that is recommended for my course... I've seen Fowles' book (Introduction to modern optics) recommended as well and it seems a lot more neat, according to what I've read.

    So I was wondering : Could I solve all the problems in Hecht's book by reading Fowler instead? Do you recommend Fowler? Am I sacrificing anything if I read Fowles?

    Edit: It's Fowles not Fowler, sorry. https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Modern-Optics-Dover-Physics/dp/0486659577
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 21, 2016 #2


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    I love you (in a purely Platonic way) for saying this. Hecht's was the only book I ever threw against the wall of my room. It stands for everything that I hate about physics. (Generally, I like physics quite a bit.)
    No, the problems in Hecht's book are simply too grave and too many.
    You are sacrificing your mental sanity if you stick with Hecht.
  4. Jan 21, 2016 #3

    What do you mean by grave here though? Too complicated?
  5. Jan 21, 2016 #4


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    No, it was a silly joke. I was talking about the problems with the book itself, not the exercises. I have seen Fowles' book when it was my turn to take optics and believe I have browsed through it, but I have not studied from it myself, so I regret that I cannot give you my opinion. It is very likely better than Hecht, though.
  6. Jan 21, 2016 #5


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    I browsed through some of my old papers and did find a lot of references to a classical book by Born and Wolf, Principles of Optics. Apparently, it was very much appreciated by a certain theoretician in my department for its systematic discussion of more advanced topics and we received some excerpts from it during his course. (Note: This was not the introductory optics course, but a subsequent elective.) Perhaps you know it already? Specially since you are already familiar with upper level E&M, you might enjoy it as a companion to Fowles.
  7. Jan 21, 2016 #6
    Thanks, I'll check it out.
  8. Jan 22, 2016 #7
    Geez, Born and Wolf is not a text to study optics for the first time! It's the ultimate reference in the field, but not a book for a course.
    The OP might like

    The Light Fantastic (nice balance, IMO)
    Pedrotti and Pedrotti's Introduction to Optics (elementary and in mostly self contained chapters)
    Guenther's Modern Optics (not the clearest I've read, but it's deeper than Pedrotti's)

    Fowler is an artist of synthesis, and I like his book a lot (I bought his other book on Analytical Mech for this reason), but it's far from comprehensive.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2016
  9. Jan 23, 2016 #8


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    Actually, Pedrotti, Pedrotti and Pedrotti. I call it Pedrotti3 for short. :-p I used it for several years when I taught an intermediate-level optics course. Even with that book there were derivations and discussions that I didn't care for. There doesn't seem to be a real consensus favorite textbook at that level, unlike e.g. Griffiths for E&M.

    I rather liked Hecht myself, but more for personal supplementary reading. I never tried to teach from it, because our optics course didn't assume intermediate E&M as a prerequisite. It simply would not have worked with our students to jump right into Maxwell's equations and wave equations right at the beginning. I preferred a more gradual approach with geometrical optics first, then wave optics.
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