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Introductory quantum mechanics books

  1. Apr 27, 2012 #1


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    I love reading popular sciences books during my free time, and I am particularly interested in physics. So far, I have read about Feynman, Dirac, Heisenberg, Bohr, Pauli, Oppenheimer, Randall, Steven Weinberg...in different books. The problem is that I don't have a background in physics, but I want to understand some basic stuff in quantum mechanics so that I can enjoy my reading more. I have a decent background in mathematics (bachelor's degree in math and currently working on my master's degree in math). I only had two calculus based physics courses when I was a freshman, and I don't really remember anything from my physics classes. I wonder if I can learn some basic stuff in quantum mechanics through introductory books on this subject. Is there a quantum mechanics book for laymen? I know it isn't an easy subject to digest, but I want to try since I don't really have anything to do this summer. I'd really appreciate any suggestions?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2012 #2
    For your purposes, Griffiths probably is a good choice. It's a very light quantum textbook but it is a textbook so it's not trivial.
  4. Apr 30, 2012 #3
    There's a dover book called Quantum Mechanics in Simple Matrix Form, which you can get at amazon http://amzn.to/IBoRoD. It explains QM using spin as a motivation. This is probably the minimum amount, ie matrices, that you need to know to begin learning about QM.

    Fortunately matrices aren't very difficult to grasp, and you can get another (cheap!) dover book on matrices and basic linear algebra here http://amzn.to/JmaU7b.

    Alternatively OP, if you remember your calculus you could jump right into a modern physics book, such as Serway http://amzn.to/IpfCYe. I don't think it requires remembering too much from freshman physics so if you're ok with your calculus this should be just fine.
  5. May 6, 2012 #4
    After finishing my first QM course, I found that there is no single answer to this question. If you want a solid understanding of the subject, you will necessarily have to approach it from different angles (read different authors). This makes sense since there are 3 different formulations of QM and, even within each one of those, authors can take different presentations. Personally, I found the following combination to work well:

    - Feynman Lectures vol. 3 (great for intuition, philosophy and exposure to experiments and appications that are often omitted from other books)

    - Bohm's Introductory Quantum Theory (nice historical perspective from one of the fathers of QM. He also gives a lot of philosophy, interpretation, and intuitive ideas. This books reads like a fairy tale :) )

    - Zetilli's QM (great overall. It has lots of solved problems and great chapters on mathematical formulation. If you get anything at all and are serious about being fluent in QM, this is the book to get)

    - Griffiths Introduction to QM (I personally have learned through hard experience to have a beef with this book. It will sweet talk you into liking it by using colloquial language. However, it often times drops bombs on intuitive understanding and the problems are insurmountable unless you have someone to help you. Luckily, due to its wide use, most grad students or professors are familiar with problems. Also, you can find most solutions online.)
  6. May 6, 2012 #5
    The OP is doing a masters in mathematics, I suspect he wouldn't have any problems with linear algebra.
  7. May 6, 2012 #6
    Seeing that you haven't had any physics other than the introductory sequence, I recommend that you pick up a modern physics textbook and get acquainted with quantum from there first. These books usually follow a more "historical" approach to QM and use basic wave mechanics; reading through something like this will set you up nicely for a full-fledged QM textbook, else you might see no motivation for it and that could kill your interest from the beginning. I used "Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers" by Thornton and Rex while an undergrad, it's not bad.

    For a more formal text, advanced undergrad level, I recommend "A Modern Approach to Quantum Mechanics" by John Townsend. This book is much better than Griffiths in my opinion (which I used for one semester) in that it shows wave mechanics as a only one aspect of quantum mechanics, not the fundamental core of the subject. It's a "baby" Sakurai (popular grad-level QM text) in a sense, and I've been able to follow Sakurai much better after learning from Townsend. Also, since you are a mathematics grad student, I think that the finite complex vector space/Dirac notation approach should make more sense in terms of formalism than wave mechanics as a start. You'll see all the closet group theory in this book way before a wavefunction.
  8. May 7, 2012 #7
    What's everyone's thoughts on Shankar?
  9. May 7, 2012 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    While you're waiting for a response, you might try using the forum search feature (the "Search this forum" link at the top of the list of threads) to search for "Shankar". It's been mentioned many times in previous threads here.
  10. May 7, 2012 #9
    Yes, and given that, why wouldn't Sakurai and Dirac be the best places to start?
  11. May 10, 2012 #10
    Definitely not Gasiorowicz.
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