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How to Plunge into Physics?

  1. Feb 26, 2004 #1

    I am relatively "new" to physics and I would love to get some advice from you physics "experts." :)

    I would like some suggestions on interesting books to read about physics. I am currently crawling through A Brief History (finding it tough to grasp) and have also picked up Simply Einstien- Demystifying Relativity...My short term goal is to get to a point of understanding with which I can grasp "The Tao of Physics."

    Any suggestions for books or other ways of learning physics would be most appreciated! :)
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  3. Feb 26, 2004 #2


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    It depends, do you wish to learn physics or learn ABOUT physics. If you wish to learn ABOUT physics continue reading the coffee table physics books as you are currently doing.

    If you wish to learn PHYSICS, sharpen your math skills through Integral Calculus, then get a good entry level text book and go to work. Learning physics is not easy, but can be very rewarding. Learning ABOUT physics is easy, but there will always be something missing.
  4. Feb 26, 2004 #3
    yeah like integral said, those are coffee table books (nothing aginst them i have small library's worth) that are about physics, but don't really teach physics. Physics is inherently mathematical, something that those books do skip around, partially because only an incredibly tiny percent of people can actually understand the mathematics involved (if i recall correctly, physics PhDs are "supposed" to be in the top 1% of educated people, so figure 2% of people can actually understand the math involved in the most advanced concepts).

    Don't let that discourage you, entry level physics is much simpler than the stuff i'm talking about, and everyone has to start somewhere. I find that for me, the easiest way to truly learn physics, and not jsut about physics, is to go out and buy the relevant texts (though this can get expensive, so borrowing is good too) and working through them. I'm actually only graduating from high school this spring, so everything i've learned thus far i've learned from self-study.

    Topics to study from the beginning:
    Single-variable calculus
    Newtonian Mechanics (also called classical mechanics)
    Electromagnetic theory
    Fluid and Thermal Physics

    That stuff is all comparatively simple, and is actually taught in AP Physics in Highschools here in the US.

    Also, as always, if there's anytihng you need help with, jsut ask.
  5. Feb 26, 2004 #4


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    I second Integral and franznietzsche.

    Now, regarding sci pop books, I would say go for what you like. Some of them are especially good in terms of style and supported information, like John's Gribbin's "In search of Schrodinger's cat", Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe", Stephen Hawking's "The Universe in a Nutshell" or Leon Lederman's "The God Particle"... there are lots to choose from, and they all usually start with a general introduction that explains the concepts they will build upon. They are not like school courses, where you need to understand Calc I in order to make sense of Calc II. You probably can start right off with the Tao of Physics.

    If this is the kind of book you are looking for, go for them; just bear in mind that these books give a (very!) watered-down version of what it means to do research in physics.
  6. Feb 27, 2004 #5


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    And I would like to agree with the three of you! (Aren't we just one big happy family here? :))

    Integral hits it right on the head - that there is a difference in learning physics and learning about physics.

    However, one of the books that was mentioned is not something I would recommend to learn about physics - The Tao of Physics. Metaphysics isn't physics although many people would like to think so. I would even be hesitant to say it is about physics. One can do much better with other more interesting pop-sci books than this one.

  7. Feb 27, 2004 #6


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    Youll find a real good mix of people who now about physics and see it as a personnal passion and those who have learnt physics who can put the meat on the bones on lot of what is discussed. I personally fall in the former cateogory. This sometimes has an interesting twist to some threads as we are not constrained by the detailed knowledge that say physics grads have and we can therefore send them down avenues they possible hadnt thought of. Thats what makes this forum great with such a wide mix of knowledge.

    Go for what ever suites you but if you like to actually undestand and be able to mess with the basics of the concepts discussed you really need to learn physics and not just about it.

    Rog. (a knower not a learner) :)
  8. Feb 27, 2004 #7
    I like physics a lot but I find it hard, It takes me a while to get things and I find bio easy, but I hate it cause its so boring. should I take physics next year?
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