Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

On the value of textbooks

  1. Sep 26, 2012 #1
    So right now I'm taking two math classes, Multivariate Calc and Abstract Algebra. There is an assigned textbook for Calc, but the professor doesn't use it, and there isn't an assigned textbook for Algebra.

    I've run into this before in other classes, and I've noticed a trend among professors to have no preference for textbooks, but rather they prefer to teach the material themselves and have the student refer to notes from class in order to do homework and tests.

    With the internet especially, and also the availability of textbooks in school libraries, I can see why the need for student-owned textbooks has seemed to declined. However, I'm curious as to what others, in math specifically but other sciences as well, think about the need for a student to buy a textbook for a particular subject. Are some subjects more important to have textbooks for than others? Is it detrimental to have no textbook at all?

    I realize owning certain textbooks may be best in the long run so that you have a reference to refer to in the future, but I'm more specifically interested in learning the material in the first place.

    Personally, I think I've gotten through two classes without a textbook. I did linear algebra straight from my teacher's notes in class.... and I understood almost nothing, but was able to get an A in the course. The other class was a Techniques of Theoretical Physics class which relied heavily on differential equations and the like. I used a general mathematical encyclopedia to get through that course. I found that referring to my own resource actually helped a lot, because I needed to do a lot of "research" on each problem in order to figure out which equations to use, but in the long run, I was always able to find them, it just took longer.

    Right now, I'm doing my two classes without textbooks, and its... okay. For Calculus, its fairly straightforward as the examples from class are closely related to our homework. For Algebra, its a bit more difficult and I find myself online A LOT trying to understand concepts we brush over in class, but require a firm grasp of in order to do the homework. So... My overall opinion is mixed. But I'm fairly young career-wise, so perhaps those with more experience in their studies have a more formed opinion?

    Textbooks, necessary or no?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2012 #2
    A good textbook is a good friend. A bad textbook is at worst an enemy and a waste of money. Some textbooks are better than others, it's difficult to say something in general about the need for textbooks. But what I can say is that the recommended coursebook is not necessarily the best on the subject. Many times I've bought a recommended textbook without knowing much about it only to find I have barely opened it when the course is over. Other textbooks I could not imagine being without.

    A good tip is to hang around on sites like this one to try to find the best books in a certain subject. And an important thing is that what constitutes a "good" book is of course subjective, you should go over the textbooks you like and dislike and try to find things that you like about a book.
  4. Sep 26, 2012 #3
    If you are studying mathematics, you will soon get to a point where you need to read the material before the lectures to be able to keep up with the lecturer. This is because it normally takes time to digest advanced mathematics, and you will likely not benefit from the lectures unless you spend some time contemplating the material at your own pace beforehand. This is not to say textbooks are the only source of information, but they are reliable if chosen properly, and you will need a reliable source.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook