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Old Forgotten Classics

  1. Feb 21, 2014 #1
    I would like to start a thread in which we would post books and notable articles/papers by great physicists/mathematicians/scientists of the past. These could be books that you found useful for study or general education. Likewise, seminal papers and other sources are welcome. We are particularly interested in obscure gems that blow one's mind with clarity, insights, and overall quality.

    Let's bring those goodies to light!

    I will start with this: "Thermodynamics" by Enrico Fermi. I used this book after having had an undergraduate thermal physics course, and it really clarified many things and made them coherent. Thermodynamics is an illusive subject ... Fermi does it like few others can.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2014 #2
    The Berkeley Physics Course, especially - in subjective order - volumes 2 (Electromagnetism), 3 (Waves) and 1 (Mechanics).
    Volume 2 is now in its 3rd edition.
    Volume 4 has perhaps a better incarnation in Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics.

    Then there's the MIT Introductory Physics Series by that great teacher that is A. P. French.
    Newtonian Mechanics is - in my humble opinion - the best introduction to physics a student could ever hope for. I wish I had learned mechanics on that book.
    Special Relativity is a respected introduction to - well you might have guessed - special relativity.
    Vibrations and Waves is a wonderful introduction to oscillatory phenomena and waves. Mostly geared toward mechanical oscillation, it is one of the clearest books I have ever read. I'd suggest to read this before Crawford's "Waves" from the Berkeley Physics Series.
    I have yet to read the Introduction to Quantum Physics volume, so if someone who has care to share his/her opinion on it, it certainly is welcome.

    Another all time classic I love is Panofsky and Phillips, Classical Electricity and Magnetism, 2nd Edition. The amount of information crammed into this little volume is impressive. Not exactly user friendly, but worth reading.

    Landau and Lifschitz, with their theoretical physics series provide another timeless classic.

    And I am not even mentioning Feynman's Lectures.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2014
  4. Feb 22, 2014 #3


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    Not obscure at all, but I really like Nyquists 1928 physical review paper, "thermal agitation of electric charge in conductors."

    It is short, well written, and extremely useful. It was handed out by a professor in a class I took - he wanted us to learn the material and use it as an example of the good writing style he hoped to see in our class project reports.

  5. Feb 22, 2014 #4


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    My all-time favorite of classical textbooks is Sommerfeld's 6-volume "Lectures on Theoretical Physics", which is, of course, translated into English for a long time. I guess there's not one single academic teacher who "created" more Nobel-Prize winners than him, and you understand immediately, how this could happen, when you read these books. It's a clear no-nonsense style showing great mastery in the mathematical concepts. That's also true to some extent for Sommerfeld's "Atomic Structure and Spectral Lines" (my translation), treating the old quantum mechanics and wave mechanics, but that's somewhat outdated now.

    Here, his pupil Wolfgang Pauli is my "hero" in writing one of the most clear expositions of wave mechanics. There's his famous handbook article but also his 6-volume lectures on theoretical physics. The only pity is that there obviously never somebody wrote up his lectures on classical mechanics. So this series starts with classical electrodynamics. Vol. 6 is of some historical interest in presenting the state of relativistic QFT in 1950ies Switzerland.

    Another favorite is Abraham/Sauter/Becker's electrodynamics. It contains a very good treatment of the relativistic aspects of E+M (unfortunately in the "ict convention", but that has been usual practice at this time).
  6. Feb 22, 2014 #5

    Dr Transport

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    Being a semiconductor guy, I go back and reread Modern theory of Solid by Seitz about every 2 years or so. Having said that, I have read and reread Slater's Chemical Physics and his 6 volume set of Solid State Physics (Vol I & II on Atomic Structure and the 4 volume set o Molecules and Solids). It took me 5 years of searching for the entire set.

    I find that the classics tend to be more straight forwardly written and more complete. Today's authors tend to assume that we have a almost encyclopedic recall of the basics and I have a hard time reading them.
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