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Intro Physics Most rigorous and challenging physics guide

  1. Jun 20, 2017 #1
    My plan is in the following order
    1.The theoretical minimum by Leonard Susskind
    2.Feynman lectures, with the exercises
    3.A course of theoretical physics, Landau and Lifshitz
    Now, my intent is to not only become a physicist, but to be one capable of unveiling fundamental ideas and revolutionary theories.My encounter with physics has been the greatest thing ever. I currently only have read popular physics books, and have no background in physics.Please your help is well appreciated.
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  3. Jun 20, 2017 #2


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    What kind of background do you have in mathematics? If you have so far only read popular science, how do you know that you will like actual physics? I am not trying to discourage you, just to make you aware that there is a big difference between what you read in popular science and what physics is actually about.
  4. Jun 20, 2017 #3
    My mathematical background includes precalc and trigonometry. I understand that physics requires a working understanding of calculus, and I'm looking to buy some calculus textbooks.Just assume I won't get discouraged about actual physics.
  5. Jun 20, 2017 #4


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    If you are that interested in physics, I would recommend a physics program at a university rather than trying to read everything yourself from books. Becoming a physicist with even the slightest chance of contributing requires several years of full time study at undergraduate and graduate level in both mathematics and physics. Without a teacher giving you guidance and feedback, you will have a hard time ensuring that you are actually learning the material intended. In addition, not only will you need to master calculus, you will also need linear algebra, complex analysis, partial differential equations, etc.
  6. Jun 20, 2017 #5
    Really solid advice. Could not have said it better myself.
  7. Jun 20, 2017 #6
    Sorry, I will be in contact with a physicist my uncle is one.He is one of the reasons I got so interested.
  8. Jun 21, 2017 #7


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    I'll also second Orodruin's advice if taking a program at university is an option for you but if not I will suggest a slightly different path to your self-study goal.

    You've picked some great books to learn from but they may not be the best fit for your math background and goals. In spite of it's folksy name and style, The Theoretical Minimum, doesn't spend all that much time on the foundational physics, say as Newton would describe them, and it moves quickly into more advanced materials (called Lagrangians) that most university students wouldn't see until their 2nd or 3rd years, yet it does this without calculus, which left me scratching my head wondering who this book is really aimed at? Feynman's books are indisputable classics, but they are better for a second exposure after you've seen a basic calculus based physics course or possibly they could be used as a more advanced supplement to other books you use. Landau and Lifshitz, generally considered classics, but they are advanced and are usually only tackled at the senior levels of university undergrad.

    I've been putting together some notes on getting started with physics from the perspective of a self-studier like yourself. This is at the level a student just starting university in the sciences or engineering would be exposed to. Here I suggest the combination of Halliday/Resnick's Fundamentals of Physics textbook in combination with Prof Shankar's Yale physics lectures (on youtube.)

    The key prerequisite that you are missing though is calculus but somehow I have a feeling that you'll find that it's pretty fun to learn especially given how it's such a key foundational building block towards your goal of learning physics. Since I believe this would be your first exposure to calculus and you are self learning, developing an intuition for what it means and how it might be used is really important. I would recommend a textbook that is heavy on applications, graphs, visuals and for which solutions are available. These are things that you would normally get from the course instructor as you go but for a self studier they must also be in the textbook.

    So with that in mind, I'm going to suggest two options, one cheap and one more pricey:
    (1) https://www.amazon.com/Calculus-Intuitive-Physical-Approach-Mathematics/dp/0486404536 - this one teaches calculus and draws on physics applications for many of it's examples.

    (2) https://www.amazon.com/Calculus-Early-Transcendentals-James-Stewart/dp/1285741552 - This one is used in many universities for their introduction to calculus, and as a result is extremely polished but expensive. It has lots of great colourful graphs, visualizations, solution manuals available and provides examples of applications to many different fields. You can save a lot of money by getting a used, older version. The main difference is that the exercises get revised every few years to help profs save time on finding problems whose solutions can't be easily found using google.

    Once you have the idea of calculus in your head, you may enjoy moving on to something like Spivak's Calculus text, which is widely praised and loved among people who have already had some basic exposure to Calculus.

    Personally I would say start with the cheap book by Kline for it's combined calculus and physics approach. If you feel like it's a bit too bland, go for Stewart's Calculus text and see about doing the Halliday and Resnick Fundamentals of Physics in parallel.
  9. Jul 1, 2017 #8
  10. Jul 2, 2017 #9
    I was scrolling down on the site for any books,and he had recommended many books.I am looking for mechanics books first of course.I had found that goldstein and lifshitz were the best books.Which one should I pick up?I have no background knowledge in mechanics.If litshitz is too hard,however not impossible to learn from I will take it over the lather.I want to develop unchallenged persistence.Thank you.
  11. Jul 2, 2017 #10
    Are you familiar with Newtonian mechanics? If you are not, then there is no use picking up either of the books.
    Assuming you are familiar with basic Newtonian mechanics, you should understand that both Goldstein and Landau & Lifshitz are graduate level textbooks. Now, Landau's book is extremely short and terse whereas Goldstein(, Safko and Poole) is bigger and more detailed. However, the exercises in Goldstein are pretty difficult and most of them are not standard textbook exercises.

    I would recommend neither to an average student if they plan to study it on their own. I would recommend something less demanding like Mechanics, 3rd Edition by Keith R. Symon or Classical Dynamics Of Particles And Systems by Marion & Thornton. One can always use Goldstein as a reference while reading these textbooks.
  12. Jul 2, 2017 #11
    I have already picked up the theoretical minimum by Susskind, will this be enough about Newtonian mechanics?
  13. Jul 3, 2017 #12
    No. Susskind is good but it is not complete. You will need a textbook and do the problems.
    Try something like Taylor. Also do some problems from something like Morin.

    Don't skip the basics. There is unfortunately no shortcut to learning physics.

    I am assuming you have the necessary fundamental mathematical prerequisite, like calculus, vector analysis etc. If not you need to start with those first.
  14. Jul 3, 2017 #13


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    Susskind jumps pretty quickly to Lagrangians. It's not a great book to start with for someone who is serious about learning physics. Better to learn calculus and do an intro to calculus-based physics at the level of Halliday and Resnick for very broad topic coverage at the level a typical first year university student might get.
  15. Jul 3, 2017 #14
    Ok I will consider it, but what is wrong with the Feynman lectures coupled with the problem set? Sorry, I have read a good portion of Halliday and resnick and it seems like a watered down physics textbook.Ive heard the problems aren't even difficult.
  16. Jul 4, 2017 #15
    Very sorry, I seemed to have missed your reply, I will look into taylor and morin. If not I will pick up the feynman lectures volume 1 and the problem set.
  17. Aug 2, 2017 #16
    Depending which field you'll want to end up in, one must remember that even the titans of the 20th century are starting to gather dust. Of course, it doesn't mean that one shouldn't be a generalist nor ignore the powerful inspiration of those who have come before us. Physics, especially foundational physics, requires a strong background in mathematics, and to be a paradigm starter nowadays, one needs a very pure background unless you "discover" something, aka experiment/observe.

    When it comes to a programme such as Landau's you have to have at least some exposure. They're useful for grounding what you might have already learned in terms of introductory mastery. So let's say you did want to become a generalist (I do too albeit in "unfashionable" fields lol), then in my 11 years of physics education (7 as Undergrad+Masters), what I have done is this:

    1. Introductory Books-Beginner: This could mean popsci books (Brian Greene, Lee Smolin, Hawking's Universe in a Nutshell) to AP Physics C prep to gather some exposure to what's been done and so on. For the maths involved I suggest Morris Kline's "Calculus- A Physical and Intuitive Approach," which is a life saver in AP and undergrad calculus courses.

    2. Introductory Books-Intermediate: This is where one begins to do some heavy lifting with mathematical wizardry. Some of the fields you will encounter at this level in physics are vector analysis, linear algebra, complex analysis, numerical methods (very important for computing and solving ungodly equations), (partial) differential equations and Analysis (Real and Complex). Now the textbooks used here are legion, so it'll depend how you learn (as in analytical, intuitive, etc). When I was an undergrad I was practically a triple major (Engineering, Physics, Math) so I took everything that I could. What helped me along the way were some of these books:

    Budget- Dover Books: Probably the best place to get some books for fields that haven't really needed to change in years. The books that carried me apart from the textbooks were Joos- Theoretical Physics; Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics, Fermi's Thermodynamics, Korn and Korn's Mathematical Handbook; Bohm's Quantum Physics, Messiah's Quantum Mechanics (Built way too much character with this one but helped me in grad school); and a few others I don't remember at the moment.

    Budget- Schaum's Guide to ____: These are a lifesaver, especially if the books you have gloss over the niceties of computation or decide to hand waive with intuition. One must have the Mathematical Formulas regardless; the other texts are great supplements for different fields that you're getting into (my favorites being Complex Analysis, Vector Analysis, and (the new) Tensor Calculus).

    Textbooks- Undergraduate: These are what professors will use in their classes and are usually listed in their syllabi. There will be variation but the content is usually the same. The books that personally took me to a higher level (at least in terms of understanding) were:

    Intro Physics: Knight Physics for Scientists and Engineers

    "Modern" aka Special Relativity, Baby Particle, and Intro Quantum- Tipler

    Classical Mechanics- Marion and Thornton

    Electrodynamics- Griffiths, this a name you'll hear a lot since he typically provides sound intuition with backing mathematics

    Quantum Mechanics- Griffiths, again. Both of his books provide a solid background at the undergraduate level

    Thermodynamics- Blundel and Blundel- Concepts in Thermal Physics, probably the best books I've ever read and introduced me to one of my favorite fields known as Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics

    Mathematical Methods- Most people swear by Boaz's Mathematical Methods but at my Uni we built a lot of character using Arken's tome. Again, like Messiah, was helpful in grad school.

    You might notice that I left out some classes like General Relativity, Condensed matter, and etc- well I didn't have those at my school, it's a small private college but doesn't mean I didn't research those things myself. I'll write more about those in my "bridge" section.

    Now these are all hunky doory by themselves but most of the time you'll have to take prerequisite math courses to make sure you're prepared to prevail. So these are typically:
    Calculus 1-3- Intro level is like Kline, Stewart onto Spivak (classic and a bridge to Analysis)
    Linear Algebra- Larson's Elementary Algebra
    Differential Equations- This can go either way, I personally enjoyed Dover's "Ordinary Differential Equations" but schools usually have good picks
    And so on. I know, I left out real analysis, numerical methods, complex analysis, and Probability and Statistics (this is probably the most important as a modern physicist) but one can look up full courses on Youtube from the Indian Institute of Technology for several courses that address these subjects quite well.

    At this point Susskind and Feynman will be helpful as guides along your journey (like Virgil with Dante). At this point one must bridge the chasm between undergrad and graduate works.

    Classical Mechanics- Taylor
    E/M- Franklin's Electromagnetism
    Quantum- Shankar

    And so on. I feel you might not be interested in more these lists so I'll stop here (which in a way is halfway). My personal fields of research are turbulence, quantum field theory, nonlinear dynamics, and differential geometry along with a floundering interest in TOEs (like String theory and the sort). I will say should you find yourself looking at the behemoth known as QFT, Blundel's QFT for the Gifted Amateur fills in so many blanks that many others have left out (seems to pair well with Zuber and Zee, like interlocking gears)

    Landau's Courses are wonderful as both bridge and graduate texts, my favorites being Fluid Mechanics, Stat Physics I and II, and Physical Kinetics (the one usually forgotten). They are heavily condensed and sometimes for every page of reading is like 4 pages of derivation (which usually occurs when the the dreaded words "It can be shown" appear).

    As a TLDR- It is important to have an underlying direction of where you want to end up at some point in your physics journey. I began (and still am) a generalist but now focused on the fields I mentioned. At the same time it is good to know the stages and history of physics to how it has developed today, so as a means to help you on your journey, these are the typically sequences of learning for these fields to help you get started.

    Classical Paradigms- Newton- Three Laws, Forces, Gravitation, Interaction; Lagrange- Energy-based formulation, Variational method (Optimized aka Min or Max); Hamilton- Momentum-based formulation, introduction to phase and configuration space; Hamilton-Jacobi- Precursor to Quantum Mechanics, focus on "Action" and leads to a wavelike formulation of mechanics

    Quantum Paradigms- Old Quantum (Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and friends): Observation of discrete units of energy and mass as opposed to a continuum, development of energy levels, and hydrogen atom along with scattering experiments and Photo-electric effect; 2nd Gen (Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Madelung, de Broglie, and friends): Introduction of uncertainty and indeterminism into physics (not completely true cuz of the n-body problem but this is an important shift), Copenhagen interpretation, Matrix and Wave Mechanics, Madelung fluid (pretty cool imo); 3rd Gen (Dirac, Feynman, Schwinger, Yukawa, Yang-Mills): Antimatter, Dirac Sea, QED, and a plethora of other things. As history advances, contributions and ideas explode practically exponentially, so decided to stop there.

    Relativistic Paradigms- Galilean (Regular Day to day transformations, think of a passing car); Special Relativity- Length Contraction, Time dilation, Speed of Light Limit Space and time fused into a 3+1 spacetime manifold, intertwining the two; General Relativity: Curvature of Spacetime, Tensor analysis rendering equations invariant, Cosmological constant, Gravitational lensing and waves, Black holes, and frame dragging; Numerical Relativity- Alcubierre (warp) drive, 5D gravity, Colliding black holes and other ultramassive objects; Quantum Gravity: Loop Quantum, Causal Dynamical Triangulations, String Theory, QFT in Curved Spacetime, Planck Resolution

    I do hope that this serves as a kinda foray into the world of physics, at least what I've experienced with it. There is more to write but I could probably write a book about it haha. I wish you the best on your journey and hope that you look upon this mountain range as a something to be taken over and never get discouraged when you leave its summit to climb its peaks.
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