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Maxwell's A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism

  1. Dec 12, 2009 #1
    Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    I bought this book as a supplement to my electromagnetism I class, but the moment Maxwell goes into anything mathematical, I'm lost. The lack of illustrations and reference to many out-dated terms makes the book hard to follow. The book is a good reference (as long as I already understand the fundamentals of the topic in question), but I was hoping to find a version of this book that I could understand given that the topic of the section of the book is somewhat new to me.

    My question is, what version(s) of this book have you read and how understandable is it? My main quarral with the math of this book is that it has no illustrations whatsoever, so the math is very abstract and I'm forced to draw my own (usually inaccurate) pictures of what Maxwell is describing.

    By the way, I own the first volume by Dover Publications, 1954 (haha, the year my mother was born, maybe this is why I don't quite follow...)

    Thanks in advance,
    Brian
     
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  3. Dec 12, 2009 #2
    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    Yeah, I've never read it, but I would imagine that a book by Maxwell would be a little out of date. There have been some advances in mathematical notation since his time. Makes the equations look a lot nicer. Would be an interesting read for historical reasons, but I don't think it would give you a good intro to the subject. What book are you using in your class? I would recommend Griffith's book "Introduction to Electrodynamics". Gives a good overview.
     
  4. Dec 12, 2009 #3

    AEM

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    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    You might be interested to know that most of Maxwell's contemporaries could not understand his books either. In fact the form of electromagnetism we use now was largely a product of work by Oliver Heaviside and others. There is a good book about this titled "The Maxwellians" by Bruce J. Hunt. It's rather cheap ~$15 in paperback.

    Additional comment: The 'Maxwellians' worked from Maxwells writings. I'm not implying that they were the ones who came up with the theory we associate with J. C. Maxwell.
     
  5. Dec 13, 2009 #4

    clem

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    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    There is a book "Maxwell on the Electromagnetic Field" by Thomas K. Simpson that goes through three of Maxwell's papers line by line with explanations. I also have "Maxwell's Treatise". The Simpson book is more interesting and useful. BUT, neither book is useful as a supplement to an electromagnetism I course. Maxwell did not use vector calculus, as we know it, because it hadn't been developed yet, which makes following the math difficult. You will find these books useful in the future as insight when you are teaching the course, but not while you are taking it.
    There are books that could be useful while you are taking the course. What level course is it and which textbook is being used?
     
  6. Dec 15, 2009 #5
    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    Out of date indeed. Charges in the book are called resinous or vitreous instead ofnegative and positive, and several of the concepts we have today are nowhere apparent (or at least not directly mentioned). The concept of the electric field is not directly mentioned in the book. As a matter of fact I am using Griffith's book in my class right now. I like Griffiths (I'm also using his Introduction to Quantum Mechanics), but sometimes I feel that he gets lost in the math and doesn't pay enough attention to the physics.

    It's good to know that I haven't necessarily hit the wall (yet).

    Very nice, I always thought Maxwell was the "go-to" on electromagnetism, not Heaviside. I'll definitely check this out.

    The course is the undergraduate Electromagnetism I. My university has an introductory E&M course followed by Electromagnetism I and II for undergraduates. We are using David J Griffiths' Introduction to Electrodynamics

    Thanks all.
     
  7. Dec 16, 2009 #6

    f95toli

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    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    Don't bother unless you are interested in the history of electromagnetism (and not only the physics). I seriously doubt any of the work written back when EM was still being developed would be of any use for learning EM today.
    If you insist on reading a "classic" you should get a copy of Jackson's "Classical Electrodynamics" which IS the "go-to" book in EM (despite being old) and is still used in many courses. Although I am not sure I would have liked using that book in my first EM course.

    Note that EM is not unique in this respect, it often takes 20 or more years for a topic to "mature" enough for it to be suitable for teaching at the undergraduate level (or teaching at any level, for that matter). Hence, it is ususally best to avoid ALL texts written during the development of said field until you actually understand it quite well.
    Also, writing text books and doing physics are two distinct skills, there are VERY few examples of famous physicists that were also good at writing text books (not counting pop sci). In fact I can only thing of one example and that is Feynman's lectures (which he strictly speaking didn't write), and no Landau-Lifgarbagez does not count since they were written by Lifgarbagez (AFAIK Landau only decided what they should contain).
     
  8. Dec 16, 2009 #7
    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    How do you know this?

    I hope it's not one of those "unfounded speculations" from Wikipedia. Slandering a dead man... :)

     
  9. Dec 16, 2009 #8
    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    Maxwell wrote his treatise in the form of "quaternions", 20 equations in 20 unknowns.

    Quaternions are pretty much the 19th century version of vectors. A man named Oliver Heaviside rewrote Maxwell's equations in the modern day form of 4 vector equations.

    If you're looking for a supplement to your Electricity and Magnetism I class, I have the perfect solution for you. As long as you can do triple integrals etc... (or are not far off it in calc class) you'll fly through this book. It describes and illustrates everything so easily I believe it should be a mandatory supplement. "A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations"

    https://www.amazon.com/Students-Guide-Maxwells-Equations/dp/0521701473

    Just be sure you have the calculus knowledge, or will be learning it shortly.

    Edit: Read the reviews, they all espouse the same thing: easiness, clarity and an abundance of illustrations.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  10. Dec 16, 2009 #9

    f95toli

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    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    I have quite a few Russian colleagues, some of whom studied in Kharkov (btw, there are PLENTY of rather amusing stories about Landau)...
    Also, note that by "decided what they should contain" I didn't mean that he just ordered it from Lifgarbagez and then took all the credit. He was very much involved in planning the contents of the chapters etc., but the actual text and most of the work was done by Lifgarbagez so the fact that the books are so well-written is mostly due to him.
    Moreover, this "division of labour" was never a secret even when Landau was around.
     
  11. Dec 16, 2009 #10

    Born2bwire

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    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    So you're saying Lifgarbagez isn't famous? Man, why all the Lifgarbagez hate? He did the best he can man, and I think he did some very good work with Casimir force of dielectrics.

    Interestingly enough, I have been reading "The Beat of a Different Drum" and it seems that Feynman was a mediocre advisor. I even think he was even equated to Landau in these respects.
     
  12. Dec 16, 2009 #11
    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    In the version that I have...there are 2 volumes and the first volume has a chapter on mathematics; may be you should try reading that.
     
  13. Dec 16, 2009 #12

    Meir Achuz

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    Re: Maxwell's "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"

    "The course is the undergraduate Electromagnetism I. My university has an introductory E&M course followed by Electromagnetism I and II for undergraduates. We are using David J Griffiths' Introduction to Electrodynamics"

    If you want a book to supplement Griffiths, try "Classical Electromagnetism" by Franklin.
    It is close to the Jackson level, but easier to follow.
     
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