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Introductory Physics Books For a High School Student?

  1. Feb 12, 2012 #1
    Hello, every one. I'm more of a lurker than a poster here on these forums, but I have my moments. Here's one. :3

    Basically, all I search for is physics books not necessarily targeted at high school students, but shouldn't be overly complicated for one to understand: more specifically, for me to understand (so, I figure I shouldn't jump to general relativity quite yet :tongue:).

    I'm currently in a Canadian high school, at the grade 10 level, and naturally have a tonne of time on my hands, so why not use some of that gaming time for learning something that truly interests me?
    I don't mind being challenged and possibly being forced to learn a bit more advanced mathematics, but I certainly don't want to be overwhelmed. Also, I hate making this a factor in obtaining knowledge, but I noticed that a lot of textbooks cost plenty of $$. Again, I'm a high school student. I can't spend too much, but I'm willing to spend a bunch.

    Just of note: I could be horribly wrong with any of the following. Please correct me if that is the case.
    So, I did a bit of research, and from what I gather the types of books any good physicist should start out with in approximate order are:

    At least one general physics book. (To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what constitutes as "general")
    Apparently "The Feynman Lectures on Physics" is good?

    Classical Mechanics

    Statistical Mechanics


    Special Relativity

    Quantum Mechanics

    Basically, what I'm looking for is
    A) Correct me if I'm wrong in any of the topics listed or their ordering, or add any more.
    B) Suggest good introductory titles from each from which a high school student can learn something.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 12, 2012 #2
    Hmm....What level of math do you know?
  4. Feb 12, 2012 #3
    I haven't used this myself but I've always wanted to check it out. It seems fun.


    Very fun and insightful. You aren't ready for his lectures on physics yet really. I mean, if you got them you'd learn a lot but there are better starting points.

    I'll see if I can think of a book on special relativity. The two chapters in Serway modern physics are really good for an introduction but that book is expensive to buy for two chapters. You can't really do much quantum mechanics yet but you could get a pretty good taste of special relativity with just algebra and a budding knowledge of calculus.
  5. Feb 12, 2012 #4
    I should clarify that I don't have any book by or even about Feynman (that I know of, at least). I just heard it was an excellent starting point. I suppose the sites I found that information on meant that more so for university students dabbling in physics. What are some better starting points?
    Thanks for the links anyway.

    Err, I'm not entirely sure how to be as thorough as I'd like to be answering this question. I haven't had much learning of mathematics outside the school curriculum. I am in a "challenge" class, if that says anything (which I doubt). Like I said, I'm in a Canadian school, in grade 10.
    I know I'm studying precalculus at the moment and shall be studying calculus (at least in school) by the end of next school year.
    Sorry if I'm not awfully specific.
  6. Feb 12, 2012 #5
    Six Easy Pieces is a must. Enjoy that like a novel. I am currently reading the same.
  7. Feb 12, 2012 #6
    The best starting point is relative to what you want to gain. For a casual fun look at physics, feynmans six easy pieces is a nice place to start.

    If you want to study physics by sitting down and doing problems, then you'll need to get a physics textbook and begin reading the sections and doing problems. I should add that even if you are in a university the Feynman Lectures on physics are a difficult place to start. I think 'most' people regard them as too dense and difficult for an intro class but are so insightful once you have a bit of experience in physics.

    Are you familar with the khan academy, cosmolearning, mit open course ware and such?
  8. Feb 13, 2012 #7
    Is there a university near you? Check out the library there. They should have a selection of physics textbooks you can read.

    In order to effectively study physics, you need to know some mathematics. It is easier to learn the physics if you don't have to learn the math at the same time. I think it would be wise to spend some time now getting ahead of the math curriculum and getting started with calculus. Become familiar with concepts like differentiation and integration and learn how to solve 2nd order differential equations with constant coefficients. I think that then you will be in a very advantageous position to learn newtonian mechanics.

    Later, supplement you existing math knowledge with vector calculus and you should be able to tackle electromagnetism.

    For wave mechanics and quantum mechanics you need to know about linear algebra, fourier transforms and partial differential equations.

    Good luck!
  9. Feb 13, 2012 #8
    I would like to make it clear that I wish to study actual physics, not just dabble in conceptual physics (i.e. no math, just concepts), but actually solve problems and increase my general knowledge in that field. I understand that I'll need to learn more complex mathematics and find a textbook, it's just that I want to be able to transition into it relatively smoothly, so I need a good place to start. I want to be challenged, but not overwhelmed.
    I want to eventually study elementary particle physics into fair depth, as well as some astronomy. I understand that those are some fairly advanced stuff, so I thought I'd have to transition into it with "simpler" physics.
    Really sorry I didn't make those points clearer when I started the thread.

    I have not (until now, of course). I'll definitely look into it. Cheers.

    Thank you. The nearest university is a fairly long bus ride away, although I might be able to convince my mother to leave for my nerdy adventures (or tag along with my brother [who goes to UBC]).
    I suppose the question now becomes... What are some good textbooks to introduce oneself to calculus?
  10. Feb 13, 2012 #9
    You can either start with a rigorous book and learn more slowly, or use a more gentle introduction to get through the material fast, then come back and do it rigorously.
    A good intro book is Stewart
    However I would reccomend doing it the hard way with this fantastic book:
    Once you've done that, you might want to pick up a nice calculus-based physics book.
  11. Feb 19, 2012 #10
    So, I managed to reap two calculus textbooks (Stewart) off my older brother which he doesn't need any more (it was last year's), as well as purchasing Six Easy Pieces (already almost half-way done), which I figure I'd read as a novel to keep me inspired while studying calculus.
    I assume this is a good setup for now?
    Thanks for the advice.
  12. Feb 19, 2012 #11
    I would say so. Be sure to ba absolutely fluent in algebra and trigonometry before starting calculus though. You will need it. For example (borrowing micromass' argument from a different thread), if you are asked to solve equations like
    [itex]\sin\,x + 2cos\,x = 1[/itex]
    are you are even a little hesitant as to how to tackle these problems, you should practise some more before starting calculus.
  13. Feb 19, 2012 #12
    The book that had the greatest impact on me when I was about fourteen was Asimov's "Understanding Physics". It isn't afraid to get into some of the equations, but I never felt over-whelmed by it - just nicely stretched. Looking back, Asimov is probably the main person to blame for me doing physics at University :)

    The "Feynman Lectures on Physics" has some very good bits, but I often felt overwhelmed by it, even when doing university physics... I think they are best used as supplementary reading for standard textbooks (most university sites recommend they be used that way, if they recommend them at all ...)

    I found sections where Feynman explained something far better than my textbook, but in the next section lost me completely... So you need a certain maturity, and much back up, to attempt them... If you want to go beyond Asimov I'd get hold of a standard text recommended for college, Halliday & Resnick for instance. My public library has a couple of them, so you don't necessarily need access to a university library. Ask the librarians... they will be able to get one from "reserve stock" or "inter library loan" if you don't see anything on the shelves...
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2012
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