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Introductory book on theoretical physics

  1. Aug 6, 2015 #1
    I'm not necessarily looking for theory of any particular subject but rather a more general approach to how theoretical physics is actually done in practice:

    -What problem-solving strategies do physicists use? (Most important part for my interests, I'm getting back into math competitions and I want to round out my problem-solving skills with some real-world applications). I've read and worked through plenty of math problem-solving and proof-writing books, but I'm looking for real-world applications.

    -How does a physicist derive a theory from experimental data?

    -When is a theory considered fully derived as opposed to just conjectured, and how does a theoretical physicist go from conjecture to theory?

    I'm looking for a book or resource that answers these questions and gives an introduction to the methods that theoretical physicists use in their work. I'm not interested in derivations or proofs of results but rather how theoretical physicists figure out how to derive and prove their results in the first place.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2015 #2


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    I don't think one book is going to cover all these topics. You are talking about a very wide ranging collection of issues and ideas. From mundane stuff about how to do word problems, right up to philosophical issues of epistemology.

    Maybe you could consider narrowing it a bit. For example, Feynman talks about how to derive a theory.

    Various other "big name" scientists have done some work on this.
  4. Aug 6, 2015 #3


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    You might want to check out Physics for Entertainment by Yakov Perelman.

    It was originally published in Russian, but there is a good English translation. You might even find an online version somewhere.

    [Edit: the book doesn't go into your list of topics directly, but through specific examples there are plenty of hints and overtones about them throughout the book.]
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
  5. Aug 6, 2015 #4


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    Another good clip of Feynman on the subject at hand:

  6. Aug 7, 2015 #5


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    Einstein's good advice concerning theoretical physics is "Don't listen to their words, look at their deeds" (or something similar). So I'd recommend to read a good general-purpose contemporary theory textbook. My favorite is in German: Bartelmann et al, Theoretische Physik, Springer (2015).

    One of the best theory books ever written (although meant as a freshman introductory course at its time) are the Feynman Lectures (3 vols.).

    Somewhat oldfashioned but perhaps the best books ever written on classical theoretical physics are Sommerfeld's Lecture notes (6 vols.).

    Very good is also the series by Landau and Lifshitz, but for these you should have some more gentle introduction before :-).
  7. Aug 7, 2015 #6
    Thank you so much! I'll look for it in the library.
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