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Physics self teaching (curriculum and textbooks)

  1. Oct 12, 2014 #1
    Hello everybody at the forum.

    My name is Alejandro, and I am a spanish telecommunication engineer, currently working as technologies teacher. My passion has always been physics, and I even thought seriously of studying a physics degree instead of my telecommunication degree. But now, at my 35, I have decided to study physics, just for intellectual pleasure and as a hobby (well, actually I began my physics studies one year ago).

    Because of my telecomm degree, I have knowledge of general physics, calculus, algebra, electromagnetic fields, etc, so I do not start from zero. I also studied differential equiations (boths ordinary and diferential), but I have forgotten almost it all about ODEs and PDEs.

    Now, I have "designed" the following curriculum for my studies, and besides, I have chosen the textbooks I will follow for the different subjects:

    1) Classical Mechanics.
    The book I have chosen is Taylor's "Classical Mechanics". Good book in my opinion

    2) Classical electrodynamics.
    For this subject, my choice is Griffiths' "Introduction to electrodynamics" (actually, I have "fallen in love" with this book. I find it is a jewel).

    For the time being, I have almost finished with these two subjects, so I am planing my next steps. I think they will be the following:

    3) Special relativity.
    For this subject, I have serious doubts about which book will be fine for me after reading Taylor and Griffiths. I have heard good things about Rindler's "Introduction to special relativity", and about the first chapters of Schutz "A firts book in General relativity". Lots of people suggest Taylor and Wheeler "Spacetime physics", but I do not like the vibe of this book. What do you think? Which would be the appropiate book for me?

    4) Quantum mechanics.
    I have never studied QM, so Griffiths book on QM seems a good option for a introductory course (as I said, Iam really enjoyng his EM book). However, many people warn agaist this book. Other good choices should be Zettili's or Shankar's books, but I am not sure. Your opinion will be really wellcomed to take a decision.

    5) Elementary particles.
    After QM, I would like to take a introductory look to Standard Model, and I think Griffiths' "Introduction to elementary particles" is, definetivelly, the right book for me. Do you agree?

    6) General relativity.
    Once I have finished with Elementary Particles, I would like to get an introduction to GR. In this case, I am also convinced thar Carroll's "Spacetime and Geometry" is a very good book for that.
    What do you think?

    When I have finished with it all, I would think what subject called my attention the most, and I would take more advanced courses in that topic. But I have a long (but exciting!) journey until I get there, so it does not worry me too much.

    I have the possibility to study abot 2 or 3 hours a day, and I really enjoy with it, so it will not be a problem. I am not a geniuos, but a consider myself a smart person. All yor suggestions ang help will be helpful for me.

    Thanks all of you.

    Best regards.


    PS: See you in the threads in this forum.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2014
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  3. Oct 12, 2014 #2


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    That all sounds great to me. For relativity and also electromagnetism I suggest to read Landau and Lifshitz vol. 2 (Classical Field Theory). It contains fundamental classical electromagnetism (i.e., not macroscopic magnetism, which is another marvelous book in this marvelous series) and General Relativity. In my opinion most textbooks on electromagnetism stick too much to the traditional didactics, starting with electro and magneto statics and then gradually introduce the full Maxwell equations. Then comes the whole cumbersome historical way to realize that Maxwell electrodynamics is in fact a relativistic field theory. That doesn't make much sense in the 21st century. One should start right from the beginning by introducing electromagnetism as a relativistic classical field theory and then derive the more traditional forms as approximations when treating the matter non-relativistically. Then the entire thing beomes much better comprehensible, and Landau+Lifshitz vol. 2 is the book which is using this idea. Another good book in this respect is also Schwartz, Principle of Electrodynamics.

    Last but not least, I recommend to also have a look at the Feynman lectures (3 vols.), which are also great books.
  4. Oct 12, 2014 #3


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    I teach special relativity using Rindler's textbook and students are quite happy with it. The first few chapters of Schutz are fine for complementarity, but as the title suggests, it really is a crash course in general relativity. (Nothing wrong with that, you could use it as additional literature in addition to Carrol when you look at GR.)

    My general opinion on Griffith's books is that the Electrodynamics one is the best by far. As a student, my corresponding courses were using these books and it was far more popular in electrodynamics. There are several textbooks that are quite standard and most have more or less the same approach. Other textbooks that come to mind are Sakurai's "Modern Quantum Mechanics" and Ballentine's "Quantum Mechanics: A Modern Development".

    Same here as for QM. I have taught from this book but (unless there is a new edition I have not seen yet) it feels a bit outdated. Anyway, the level should be relatively appropriate. In order to really understand elementary particle physics, you really should also learn relativistic quantum mechanics and quantum field theory (at least to some extent).
  5. Oct 12, 2014 #4
    Thanks [/PLAIN] [Broken]vanhees71 and Orodruin for your suggestions.

    About Landau and Lifshitz books, I believed they were upper graduate or graduate level texts. I think they are just too advanced for me, but I will take a look to them at the library.
    [/PLAIN] [Broken]

    For special relativity, I think I will try with Rindler's "Intro. to SR". Although it is a little bit old, it seems there is a general consensus that it is a very good text on the subject. About QM, I think I have to be more prepared on the subject before I can face Sakurai's and Ballentine´s books. What I am looking for is a good introductory book on QM.

    Concerning Elementary Particles, do you know any other introductory book apart from Griffiths that you will suggest?

    Thanks both again for your replies.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  6. Oct 13, 2014 #5

    George Jones

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    At the level that I that I think you want, I think that Griffiths (second, revised, 2008 edition, with, e.g., a short chapter on neutrino oscillations) is quite nice. Interesting, mathematical infelicities notwithstanding, I know a pure mathematician who loves Griffiths' book on elementary particles.

    The 2-volume set by Aitchison and Hey,


    is an introduction to quantum field theory and elementary particles, but the standard model is not discussed until the second volume.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  7. Oct 13, 2014 #6
    Hola Alejandro,

    I started to study by myself QM as a hobby some time ago, and, according to the suggestions of people as vanhees71, and others members, I bought Modern Quantum Mechanics, Sakurai at Amazon, as well as a lent and old edition of Quantum Mechanics: Non-Relativistic Theory, L. D. Landau and E. M. Lifshitz.

    They both work perfect for me, so, I am sure they will be fine for you... be aware that you will need to review Calculus...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  8. Oct 14, 2014 #7
  9. Oct 15, 2014 #8
    Thanks all for your replies (I feel honored to read some suggestions from such important members in this forum, like George Jones, or Vanhees71, whose constributions I have been reading since I found this forum).

    So, I think this will be my roadmap for the next years:

    1) "Classical Mechanics" Taylor.
    2) "Introduction to electrodynamics" Griffiths.
    3) "Introduction to special relativity" Rindler.
    4) Introduction to quantum mechanics (still hesitating here: Griffiths, Shankar, Zettili or a combination of a pair of them).
    5) "Introduction to elementary particles" Griffiths.
    6) General relativity (still hesitating here, as well: Schutz, Carroll, D'Inverno, or a combination of a pair of them).

    What do you think about the list, and about the order of the sequence? Is it the appropiate?

    I have left aside subjects like thermal physics, statistical physics, fluid mechanics, and many others. I do not know if they would be a "must study" before facing any of the subjects in my list. Any advice about it will be really wellcomed as well.

    Thank you all again.
  10. Oct 15, 2014 #9


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    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  11. Oct 15, 2014 #10
    Hello vela.

    I have read a lot of good things about Hartle's book, but also, I have read that this book only uses calculus to give a first introduction to the subject. I think I prefer a more advanced introduction to this subject. That is why I think Carroll's book is the appropiate, maybe combined with D'Inverso or Schutz for simpler approaches to the most complex concepts.

    Do you agree with mybpoint of view?
  12. Oct 15, 2014 #11


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    Regarding d'Inverno's book on relativity, we used it one year when I was a teaching assistant and the students literally despised it. Now, this may of course be completely circumstantial, but this is my only encounter with it.
  13. Oct 15, 2014 #12
    For self-studying, there doesn't exist a better bibliography than this one. I highly recommend it!
  14. Oct 15, 2014 #13


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    Sounds reasonable. You know best what works for you, and it's not like you can't change course if you subsequently think you made a mistake. I believe there's a free PDF version of Carroll's book available, though I can't find the link right now. You could take a look and see if it's to your liking. I'll also add that I didn't care for D'inverno's book when I took GR.
  15. Oct 19, 2014 #14
    Kleppner and Kolenkow
    but eventually something to cover Lagrangian and Hamiltonian forms (before step 6) like a mix of Fowles&Cassiday and Goldstein or something.

    The Feynman Lectures for everything are interesting too.

    and Purcell
    and eventually Zangwill

    Hard to say you could even start with a general modern physics book like Krane for intro to QM/SR and then do this stuff.
    Maybe Griffiths and Shankar and then Sakurai Modern QM.

    Maybe a combo of the little Dirac booklet, Schutz, Carroll and then or also Zee (the Zee one looks pretty awesome).
    You could always start with a quick Dirac/Schutz/Hartle and then Carroll and Zee.

    And then if you want more you could:
    7) the stuff mentioned above: Zangwill E&M, Sakurai Modern QM, Elementary Particle Physics in a Nutshell
    8) Zwiebach's intro to string theory (can do this before #7 if you wish or even before #6 I guess)
    9) Srednicki QFT, Schwartz QFT and the Standard Model, Student Friendly QFT, Hatfield QFT,Peskin QFT
    10) Becker String/M-Theory and such

    You probably should cover the basics of thermal and statistical physics. At first they might seem like they'd never matter for the 'real' or 'good' stuff and thermo might seem boring (it all depends though) but eventually you'll realize looking back that just about everything early on comes into play later on at some stage even if you goal is 'only' GR/particle physics/string theory. So much of every basic classical subject actually comes into play in high energy in the end in some way or another. That said, you can likely skip fluid mechanics if you wish (to be honest, I've not yet actually ever studied it). If you went into condensed matter or certain applications it might be very important though.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2014
  16. Oct 19, 2014 #15
    I bought the book, but somehow I've never managed to ever really go through it fully. It just seems weird in the end. I think I'd sooner look to the mentioned hartle, Dirac, Schutz, Carroll, Zee. I have a feeling the students were probably onto something.

    Eventually might want to look at the MTW or even Wald, those are tricky to start with, Wald crazy tricky to start with would not start there at all. I still haven't gotten around to going through Wald. But Wald does do some advanced things in perhaps an important weigh if you want to start really getting deeply into GR in all ways.

    Also some like Zee for QFT, but paging through it I feel it's maybe more of a QFT book to read AFTER you have already learned QFT to then learn it, if that makes any sense.

    Anyway I think we have given you enough to fill your next 2-10 years hah depending how fast you can go, how much time, how far you go, etc. To do all through step 10 could take quite some years especially starting from semi-scratch after so many years. But be cool fun all the same.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2014
  17. Oct 20, 2014 #16
    For relativity, not as a replacement, but as a supplement check out The Mathematical Theory of Special and General Relativity by Katti. Good, recent book and the price is right. I vouch for Shankar for QM. Although you don't have to, statistical mechanics is enjoyable. Although I can't compare it to the standard physics thermodynamics & statistical mechanics texts, I like what I've seen of Modern Thermodynamics with Statistical Mechanics by Helrich. I am currently using Statistical Mechanics by McQuarrie although you may not enjoy it as much because it's focused on the chemistry side (although it's not hand wavey by any means so far). Fluid mechanicst can definetly be done without when studying physics, although if you find it interesting go for it. I currently want to go through Landau's Fluid Mechanics book which looks good but I find I need to go through something else beforehand, either a vector and tensor calculus/analysis book or a lower level but not engineering fluid mechanics book.
  18. Oct 23, 2014 #17
    Hello everyone! I am new at the forum. My name is Silkia.
    I am a pediatrician but as with Alejandro my real love has always been physics. In 3 occasions I had decided that this was my career choice but I ended up in medical school. As an undergraduate I took all the math courses required for a physics degree however this was a long time ago. I have decided to pursue physics but at this time I will mostly be self taught too. I would love to go back to college and my ultimate goal is to earn a PhD but I need to figure how to do that with having a day job ( might need to start working at night). I would appreciate any advice and suggestions for textbooks for math and classical mechanics. I might as well review everything to avoid gaps in knowledge. I am currently listening to online MIT Quantum mechanics lectures and enjoying every single minute but I need to go back and review my previous knowledge. Thanks in advance for any help that you can provide.
  19. Oct 25, 2014 #18
    Thanks all of you for your replies (special mention to Porcupine137 for your kind suggestions).

    For the time being, I think I have decided my study program:

    1) Classical Mechanics: Taylor + Kleppner and Kolenkow + Fowles&Cassiday (this last one for slightly more advanced topics)
    2) Electrodynamics: Griffiths + Wangsness.
    I can't help saying that, although Purcell's book is very good considered, it doesn't work for me (I find it a little bit messy, and the problems are so difficult for me).
    3) Special relativity: Rindler + Schutz + ¿Woodhouse?
    Someone suggested me Woodhouse book, and it seems quite fine. Maybe I will add it to my special relativity reference books. If someone heard anything about it, or had any experience with it, any comments wiil be helpful.
    4) Quantum mechanics: I think I will start with Griffiths, as a gentle introductin to the subject, and then continue with Shankar or Zettili.
    5) Elementary particles: Here I am pretty convinced that Griffiths will be perfect for me. After Griffiths, maybe I will take an introductory course to quantum field theory (probably Zee's "Quantum field theory in a nutshell").
    6) General relativity: I think I have decided to take a first look to Schutz, and then continue with Carroll + Zee.

    I guess steps (4,5) could be delayed in favour of step 6, depending on my interest by then.

    When I have finished, my next steps will probably lead me to quantum field theory, standard model, cosmology and astrophysics, and modern TOE's (String theory, and so on). I have planned a year per topic, but I am not in a hurry.

    Some last words for Silkia: I suggest you to take the fisrt step now, with no more hesitations. Select a book on any subjetc that calls your interest, and start self studying!!

    Thanks everyone again.
  20. Oct 25, 2014 #19


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    I can only warn against Zee's "Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell". At the first glance it's fun to read, but for serious study it's too superficial and not well understandable. I'd start out with

    M. D. Schwartz, Quantum Field Theory and the Standard Model, Cambridge University Press 2014

    It's a great book. I just got it from Amazon, and found it to be a "page turner" (if one can say so about a science textbook).

    Later, if you are also addicted to QFT you can go on with Weinberg's "Quantum Theory of Fields, 3 vols." which, I think, are the best books on the subject written so far.
  21. Oct 25, 2014 #20


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    Regarding the comment by vanhees71, I think we don't need any new <solid> textbooks on QFT. Basically, Weinberg's books pretty much exhausted the subject of 'conventional' (i.e. semi-rigorous) QFT. For this reasons, I think Zee's book means more than a 900 page book by Schwartz.

    I mean, in terms of QFT books, we have at least 100 books in English, German and Russian in the past 60 years (let's put the 1st edition of Bogolubov and Shirkov in Russian in the 50s as the first general textbook on QFT). Encyclopedic works have been written before, I can only think of Itzykson and Zuber's book which is now about 34 years old.

    Let me try to say things in a different way: what's the point of writing an 800 page long book, if 700 pages have already appeared in 50 other books?

    And 1 more thing: the fact that Schwartz uses +--- is ok, the fact that <upper indices> are not used is digusting.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
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