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List: texts/ideas for BS math/phy to grad school

  1. Nov 25, 2011 #1
    List of texts/key ideas for BS math/phy to grad school

    Thanks to great feedback, I've updated my attempt to:

    Pull out the minimal set of math and physics ideas, backed up by the actual history, that underlie the knowledge needed to navigate from junior level math/physics through graduate school and beyond, including the current methods in theoretical physics. I list and review a core set of the best, clearest books and literature to this end, often including what you should get from each book/article. I probably would have saved about a decade, and lots of money had I had a "syllabus" like this. There are so many dead end books out there!


    A. Alaniz

    PS--My first perusal of A First Course in Loop Quantum Gravity by Rodolfo Gambini and Jorge Pullin is pretty positive. On a first passage, a lot of the book seems accessible with a 4 year background in physics. Some sections involving quantum field theory might require more background that Gambini and Pullin provide.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Nov 26, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2011 #2
    Now I just need to find the time to read it all.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/34/Time_Enough_at_Last.jpg/250px-Time_Enough_at_Last.jpg [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  4. Nov 26, 2011 #3
  5. Nov 28, 2011 #4
    How can I dowload the attachment of the first post?
  6. Dec 14, 2011 #5
    Re: List of texts/key ideas for BS math/phy to grad school

    I think you are trying to transform a physics Genius to a Nerd. Ordinarily, a physicist do not need that much math at beginning. Learn math in real physical application.
  7. Dec 14, 2011 #6
    Thank you for your comment yicong2011.

    I've noticed a great theme in these Academic forums: people posting advice for good books to read to fill in knowledge gaps. Outside of what you can pull out of the internet jungle, there is a large, confused book market for postgraduate studies, e.g., the very expensive Springer books.

    You can certainly learn mathematics as you study physics. I did this through my BS, and even through my doctoral work, despite having earned an MS in mathematics in between. However, like many others, I felt that much of what I had learned was simple aping of mathematical prescriptions to treat advanced physics problems. If your bent is for experimental physics, then you're probably okay with the mathematics you've pick up from school.

    If you're into theory, unless one gets very lucky with a great advisor, one cannot pick up a book or research paper from the current, even old, literature and just read it. Straight away, you will get lost in nomenclature, forget about substance. It will take you years, if you have the time and the persistence, to succeed in understanding leading theoretical physics because there is a lot of poorly written junk out there, and because most of the literature out there is not meant to be pedagogical.

    I recall the news splash a few years ago about a surfer dude (Lissi) having potentially unified the known forces. His paper was steeped in E8 group theory. Your not going to get knowledge of E8 from any undergrad or grad class I know of. So you google for articles and search Amazon for books. Work hard enough and long enough, and you will succeed in reading Lissi, or other papers in this area of physics steeped in group theory. It was a decade for me past my PhD, and I'm not a slouch, to be able to "catch up" and really read present day physics literature. While working at accelerators, or designing nukes at LANL, most of my time was wasted on trying to get something out some book or paper. I succeeded little by little, wasting a lot of time on searches on the internet, perusing new books at the LANL library afterhours, and spending more money for the next book sold on Amazon. The price per bit of knowledge gained was steep. Many times after long battles I have thought to myself, well, I've learned this much, and I'm just not smart enough to go to the next level, "the end", only to stumble by happenstance into the book or article that finally clicked for me.

    Pick up the pedagogical book on String Theory or the new one in Loop Quantum Gravity. You'll likely get the big idea of strings, but I think the average reader will have far less success in LQG without reading Nakahara. And then you'll run into all of that algebraic topology in both the string theory and LQG books. Do you pay lip service? Then what can you really do in any knowledgeable way?

    Knowledge is power. The physicist Eugene Wigner was hated by many American physicists, e.g., Slater, for developing the gruppenpest (group theory). The gruppenpest methodology is now a critical element of the Standard Model, and models beyond it, e.g., SUSY. Slater and his ilk just couldn't handle the math. They lost.

    The books I list in the syllabus are well written and very pedagogical in nature. When I would finally crack idea X or method Y, I'd pass it on to my students over the years. I finally got to the point where to a make a list or a syllabus was natural. The material in the list is, honestly, what worked best for me. Individual chunks have also worked for many others out there as I can see in these forums when someone asks for a good starter book in, say, QED. What's in my "list" for QED matches well with the recommendations in the posts of other people. I should add that most of the material is timeless. One will not be replacing the content in Goldstein's Classical Mechanics, or Jackson's Electrodynamics very soon. Nor, for that matter, the group theoretic content of Gilmore or Jones, or the algebraic topology in Nakahara. Should there be a course for beginning graduate students in mathematics and physics covering the syllabus material?

    The first four chapters of R. Gilmore '74, followed by the first four chapters of H. F. Jones, 2nd ed., followed by R. Gilmore 2008 will make your probability of understanding the work of Georgi (and his book) much more likely. They will also increase your understanding of mathematical physics to ordinary, graduate school core classes, far beyond aping prescriptions you copied from a chalkboard. Jackson problems will be clothed in a unified picture thanks to the work started by Sophus Lee.

    I found my understanding of guage field theory much improved by my reading of Nakahara and seeing guage fields in a much more general, and mature language. The physics texts by Ryder, 1st or 2nd ed., only give you a hint of the deeper picture. If you are searching for new guage field theories without all of the mathematics tools, it is very likey your work will be trivially dismissed by those who really know their stuff. There are very few geniuses out there, and the low hanging fruit is gone. I also find, knowing many doctoral level mathematicians at Los Alamos National Laboratory and beyond, that these mathematicians are hindered by not knowing the (typically physics based) history of their knowledge, nor knowing the applications to physical problems. Both camps lose.

    There was an ariticle released not too long ago that, circa today (2011), physicists peak at 48, primarily because it takes so long to master the skill set, this being mostly advanced mathematics. My syllabus is intended to reduce this time by providing a minimal but sufficient set of material that can be self-learned in a relatively linear way. And pretty much every one of the books or research articles have tons of citations should one of the listed books or articles not resonate with you. The syllabus also provides you a history of how, say, classical mechanics has co-evolved over centuries with variational methods to give us the modern basis of quantum mechanics and quantum field theories. History helps, if only so that you avoid repeating it, unkowingly recreating likely dead old ideas. Personally, I find knowing the history of today's physics and mathematics more useful than this. I see connections between disparate things like Galois theory and the solution of partial differential equations. Knowing disparate connections is, I believe, important for making advancements in both mathematics and physics.

    Of course, we're all entitled to our opinions, and we can do with our time as we see fit.


    Alex Alaniz
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2011
  8. Dec 17, 2011 #7
    << unnecessary complete quote of preceding post deleted >>

    Thank you very much. I should say sorry.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2011
  9. Dec 17, 2011 #8
    << unnecessary complete quote of preceding post deleted >>

    Thank you very much. I should say sorry.

    But I think your recommendation is oriented to experimentalists or applied physicists.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2011
  10. Dec 17, 2011 #9
    A serious student in theoretical physics program should look into John Baez's reading list.


    Also anyone could find a lovely tutorial material on General Relativity on John Baez's website.
  11. Dec 17, 2011 #10
    Incredible resource. Would you mind if I rewrote it in [itex]\LaTeX[/itex]? Obviously all credit to you. I just think TeX is easier to maintain/looks better/is more accessible than a Word document :)
  12. Dec 18, 2011 #11

    I agree about Latex. Unfortunately I never learned it.

    I'm glad you find the word document useful. You certainly have permission to convert it, and I would be glad to help however I could.

    When I last updated the word document, I wasn't aware that (for group theory and physics) R. Gilmore had updated his 1974 book in 2008. Gilmore writes in his '08 forward that over the decades he felt that he could reduce the '74 version down to 10%, and still keep 90% of the meat. So far, Gilmore '08 has pulled off this claim--with a caveat I would add. I couldn't read his '08 Chapter 1 without first reviewing my notes of H F Jones (2nd ed.) over chapters 1-4. Without providing any justification, Gilmore '08 chapter 1 opens up with character tables for irreducible representations. This is precisely the toolset Jones builds in his chapters 1-4. So I would add this information to the word document.

    What I have done over the last few months is reread Gilmore '74 and Jones 2nd ed., and I've made "very" detailed notes, filling in the gaps that could easily derail a new learner of this material. Seriously, I'm on my 4th reading of Gilmore '74 and third reading of Jones 2nd ed., and I'm only now pretty confident that I truly understand their work. My intention is to get these notes into electronic form. But I also plan to add Gilmore '08 chapter 1. I'm pretty sure then that Gilmore '74 chapters 1-4 with Jones chapters 1-4, plus Gilmore '08 chapter 1, together with my detailed notes for this material provide a self sustaining mininum to more advanced readings. I would also throw in Gilmore '08 chapter 16 on Lie's work in unifying the differential equations of mathematical physics, with my notes on this material.

    What is the value?

    After learning differential and integral calculus, sequences and series, I took a junior course in real analysis: "Elementary Analysis, the Theory of Calculus" by Ross. I really like the Ross book. It made me feel confident in the foundations of my calculus toolset, and to recognize where pathologies might occur that could lead physicists astray in solving practical problems. There are other fairly good books treating this material, e.g., "Analysis, an Introduction to Proof" by Lay, and many horrible books as well.

    This is the kind of value I see in chapters 1-4 Gilmore '74, chapters 1-4 Jones 2nd ed., and chapter 1 (and 16) of Gilmore '08 AND the book by Nakahara. I finished a BS and PhD in physics, and an MS mathematics (36 hours pure math). So of course I got both sides (physics and math) of linear algebra, group theory, point set topology, differential equations. My MS in math made me realize I would have had gaps in my math from just physics training, and converselty, my training in physics made me realize that I would have had gaps in understanding mathematics. Moreover, I would have remained ignorant about these gaps.

    For me, I feel strongly that that above Gilmore/Jones/Nakara material helped me have confidence in the math foundations BY tying the math foundations to physics, which is much less abstract and far more intuitive. Also, this material has also helped me understand what kinds of things should go into candidate theories, and why.

    The physicists, for example, give you prescriptions about irreducible representations of SU(n) for spectra. The mathematicians bury any contact of group theory with reality in a riduculous pile of abstraction. Gilmore/Jones unified the two camps for me--made the physics less "cowboy", less prescriptive, and the math less useless abstraction. Ditto Nakahara for General Relativity (connection) and guage field theory (covariant derivative).

    As you probably know, the 44 page word doc is about this kind of unification between math and physics from Calculus I to a good core graduate math & physics, where you can stop, or press on to things like QFT, strings & LQG.

    Cheers and thanks,

    Alex Alaniz
  13. Feb 16, 2012 #12
    Will have an update soon regarding nonlocality in physics, and plausible mathematical descriptions of nonlocality.


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