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Schools How important is it to buy textbooks for university courses?

  1. Feb 22, 2009 #1
    Hello all,

    I'm entering my second year of university (Physics/mech engineering major) and am wondering whether it is worthwhile spending money on the textbooks?

    In my first year, I found there were some subjects where I didn't touch the textbooks - primarily Calculus I and II (Calculus: Early Transcendentals by Anton, Bivis and Davies) and others where I couldn't have managed without the textbook (Physics for Scientists and Engineers: A Strategic Approach by Knight).

    I'll be buying the textbook for International Politics, as most of the material is from the book, however for my three Physics subjects, I'm not so sure.

    First is Vector Calculus. We don't have any prescribed text, as we're given fairly detailed notes to through the subject. However, I found in Linear Algebra last semester that the notes weren't always detailed enough and I'd like to have a book handy to make sure I understand the material. The two reccomended textbooks are:
    • Vector Calculus, 4th edition by Marsden and Tromba
    • and Calculus of Several Variables, 4th edition by Adams
    I'm reluctant to get either textbook, because going by reviews from Amazon, the first seems rather average and isn't recommended to someone learning the material for the first time, while I can't find a review of the second book anywhere, and I'm not willing to pay upwards of $150 dollars for it.

    If anyone has ever encountered either of the books, would you recommend purchasing them? Is a textbook really necessary for maths, seeing as though I'm not majoring in it (that said, I'd like to learn the material and not just be able to regurgitate it for the exam)?

    I've been wondering if it's a good idea to buy a different textbook on Vector Calculus? I'm sure that most textbooks will cover fairly similar material - for those more experienced than myself, it is smart to rely entirely on an alternate textbook to get you through the course? And if so, could somebody recommend me a good textbook for learning and understanding Vector Calculus?

    Second subject is Engineering Computation. Seems like a simple subject - basically an introduction to programming (with a focus on mathematics). Not sure if I'll buy the textbook (Moffat, A. (2003). Programming, Problem Solving, and Abstraction with ) as my brother is a computer science student and there's a whole heap of programming books lying in the bookshelf. I think the book is recommended as opposed to prescribed, so I'll wait and see how I go without it.

    Third subject is Thermal and Classical Physics. I've learnt at both high school and first year physics that I'm unable to learn the materials in lectures and am almost completely reliant on the textbook to get me through. We have two prescribed texts for the subjects:

    D V Schroeder, An Introduction to Thermal Physics, Addison-Wesley Longman.

    A P Arye, Introduction to Classical Physics, Allen & Bacon.

    The first seems to have decent reviews on Amazon and I'll be picking it up. I don't even think the second one exists, as I can't find it anywhere - not even on the university bookshop website.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2009 #2
    It really depends on the person. If you learn well from textbooks then go ahead and buy them! If you find that you get along just fine using the internet/library as a resource, then do that. If you have a thing for owning books and love looking over at a gigantic stack of textbooks like I do then you might buy four (very cheap, out of date, used) textbooks for a single class. Do whatever helps you learn the most.
  4. Feb 23, 2009 #3
    Marsden and Tromba is pretty much unreadable unless you enjoy reading pages and pages of proofs. Serge Lang wrote a very nice book on vector calculus which can be found in most libraries. I've also heard nothing but good things about "Div, Grad, Curl, and All That," but have never read it myself.

    I took a thermodynamics class which used Schroeder, and thought it was pretty well written and comprehensive. He even talks about things like diesel engine cycles and refrigerators, which many thermal physics texts omit completely.
  5. Feb 23, 2009 #4
    Thanks for the advice.

    I'll be getting "Div, Grad, Curl and All That" - sounds like a good reference book.

    However, am undecided between Lang's "Calculus of Several Variables" and Stewart's "Multivariable Calculus: Concepts and Contexts". Which book is better/covers the material relevant to subject:

    This subject studies the fundamental concepts of functions of several variables and vector calculus. It develops the manipulation of partial derivatives and vector differential operators. The gradient vector is used to obtain constrained extrema of functions of several variables. Line, surface and volume integrals are evaluated and related by various integral theorems. Vector differential operators are also studied using curvilinear coordinates.
    Functions of several variables topics include limits, continuity, differentiability, the chain rule, Jacobian, Taylor polynomials and Lagrange multipliers. Vector calculus topics include vector fields, flow lines, curvature, torsion, gradient, divergence, curl and Laplacian. Integrals over paths and surfaces topics include line, surface and volume integrals; change of variables; applications including averages, moments of inertia, centre of mass; Green's theorem, Divergence theorem in the plane, Gauss' divergence theorem, Stokes' theorem; and curvilinear coordinates.​

    Bearing in mind I've also got Calculus: Early Transcendentals by Anton, Bivis and Davies, which covers some aspects of the course.
  6. Feb 23, 2009 #5


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    Why don't you just have a look at them in the library and then decide whether you want to buy them.
  7. Feb 23, 2009 #6
    I won't be at uni until the start of semester (next week) and I'd like to order my books as soon as possible. I intend to get them from the States, as the textbooks are ridiculously overpriced here (Australia).

    My only option ATM is to look through e-books. I like the presentation of Stewart's book better, but I'm not sure if it covers the relevant material in as much detail as Lang.
  8. Feb 23, 2009 #7
    They seem to get bashed alot but I really like Stewart's Calculus books, I find myself already understanding most of the material before we even have a lecture on it.
  9. Feb 23, 2009 #8
    I find that most of my classes come nowhere near to covering all the material in lecture that we need to know. I learn best from reading my texts, and then asking questions in/after lecture, then doing exercises.

    Div, Grad, Curl, and All That is a great book. All the mathematics is taught in application to electromagnetics, which is an extra plus if that area is related to your area of study (I'm an EE major, so it's perfect). I'm about halfway through reading it. Covers more than we did in Multivariate Calculus (Calculus III).
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