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Hmmm, books for a curious high school (almost) senior?

  1. May 31, 2010 #1
    Good evening,

    I am in high school (well we would have called it secondary school but I'm assuming most of you are Americans) in Ireland, I will be a senior (Americanism again.. :p) next year (i.e. finishing in 2011) and I have a keen interest in science (particularly physics) and mathematics, I have represented Ireland at various international.. yada yada yada...

    I'm looking for a couple of books to supplement my education in the meantime before I go to university etc.
    What I'm thinking of is:
    -The Feynman Lectures on Physics.
    -Euclid's Elements (Not sure about this one, but I've heard it's rather good, any help?)
    -And maybe a Calculus book, i.e. a big theory/detailed one, as I already know basic inetgral/differential calculus from school and wouldn't mind learning a bit more on this (if this is really necessary or helpful, if it's not please tell me).

    My main issues are. 1. Do you think this is a good choice? and 2. Which calculus book? (If any), as I have found that many of the classic texts (i.e. Apostol etc.) are ridiculously expensive and I just cannot justify paying that much for a book, however good it is, and any affordable suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 1, 2010 #2
    I'm thinking Spivak for the calculus?
  4. Jun 1, 2010 #3


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    Feynman's lectures and Spivak are good choices, but I'm not sure about Euclid. From what I understand (haven't read it myself) it won't be much value to you as a physicist (like reading Newton's Principia or something).

    A few words then about Feynman and Spivak..

    Feynman is a book you might not appreciate at first glance, because he tends to be clever and tricky with the way he approaches problems. If you're seeing the material for the first time it can be off putting, but I guarantee if you go back and read it a few years later you'll really start to appreciate it.

    Spivak is probably not at all necessary for a degree in physics, as it deals more with the analysis behind the calculus rather than the machinery. In this sense, it would probably be more useful for a physics degree to start reading a book on multivariable calculus or differential equations. However, if you do plan to go forward in mathematics, or simply are curious about more of the underlying theory, I'd say it's an excellent choice.
  5. Jun 1, 2010 #4
    Thanks for you very helpful advice.
    The reason I included the Euclid was more out of purely intellectual curiosity as I've long found geometry fascinating, not because of any percieved utility.

    The main reason I included the Spivak was that I'm rather uncomfortable with how calculus was explained at school and I hate using weakly understood mathematical tools no matter how they always give the right answer, so I think I will get it anyway before moving onto partial/vector/ODEs etc.
  6. Jun 1, 2010 #5
    If you wish to read Euclid, then I highly recommend that you supplement the original work with https://www.amazon.com/Geometry-Euc...2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1275434039&sr=1-2-spell by Robin Hartshorne. He leads you through The Elements and then takes you beyond Euclid. Although Hartshorne's text is intended for an upper division math class (3rd or 4th year University in the US), you probably could get a lot out of it. Hartshorne assumes that you also have Euclid's books.

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  7. Jun 1, 2010 #6
    2 good alternatives / accompaniments to FLonPhysics would be Roger Penrose's 'Road to Reality' (I'm English and so is he :P) and Young and Friedman's 'University Physics'. Both offer a similarly complete guide to modern physics up to and beyond (in the case of Penrose's book) university level physics and can be invaluable resources to have on a bookshelf.
  8. Jun 2, 2010 #7
    Thanks for that :), however, may Road to Reality be a little hard for a (good) high school student, as from the descriptions and reviews I've read it seems to be highly advanced mathematically and according to many reviewers requires a strong background in physics/maths, or is this nonsense?
  9. Jun 2, 2010 #8


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    Agree. Penrose tries to lead the reader through it, but I still think it's at quite a high level.
  10. Jun 2, 2010 #9
    Yes in general I would tend to agree. I did however explicitly mention that it covers both University physics and beyond. I apologise, I guess I should have elaborated a little more. I personally find the very structured, sequential nature of it very accessible. For example, as I mentioned about it being a good resource, the index and resulting discussion of the topic in the main text are invaluable for a quick overview when looking something up.

    I appreciate that much of it would be very hard-going for a pre-undergrad but exposure to the material that you'll eventually come across needn't be a bad thing. That said I certainly don't mean to advocate that you go and buy a copy right away, maybe grab a copy from a library when you get a chance and see if you like the style. IMO he offers clear and concise descriptions of both the simple and complex stuff.

    Perhaps I sounded a bit keen on it before without giving sufficient reason. I actually met Sir Penrose after attending a lecture he gave a couple of weeks ago. He seemed like a very genuine, highly intelligent man. (Plus I like his posh Oxford accent!)

    In case anyone's interest he happened to mention that he has a new book coming out circa October this year regarding his 'Aeons of time' proposal (various videos of him talking about it are on youtube). Whilst I am sceptical of how his theory will stand up against testing I am quite looking forward to reading it.
  11. Jun 2, 2010 #10
    Yeah, sounds like solid enough advice, it may be worth picking up a copy a little later in life :).

    Although I must say one thing about the library issue, any books I get will have to be bought online for a number of reasons. I live in a rural, remote area and the nearest university and decent sized town is quite distance away and the local library mainly stocks fiction books and encyclopaedias and such and I seriously don't think anyone in this town has ever asked for a book on anything more technical than.... no just anything technical at all..

    So, I think I'm gonna go with Feynman, Euclid, Spivak and the Hartshorne geometry book as, judging form the reviews it looks pretty interesting.. now, to convince someone else to pay for this..
  12. Jun 2, 2010 #11
    Lol, good lad. All the best with your future studies..
  13. Jun 10, 2010 #12
    Haha, I know what you mean. I asked my library to try and get A Shorter Intermediate Mechanics by D. Humphrey. It took them three weeks, and they ordered the wrong one too.. :/
    You should check it out btw.
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