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Recommended upper division classical physics books for self-learning

  1. Mar 4, 2012 #1
    Hey guys, I'm an electrical engineering student with a strong interest in physics. I would like to work through classical mechanics, E&M, and thermodynamics books. I'm not sure if there's another subject that is usually covered in classical physics (perhaps waves/optics?) but if so, I'd like recommendations on these classes also.

    What you should know about me:

    I've completed Calc I, II and III, linear algebra and an introductory statistics and probability course. I also purchased the book Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences by Mary L. Boas, and I'm currently working on it. I was told that the book should cover pretty much everything needed in undergrad physics.

    What I'd like to get out of the books:

    The books should be very clear since I won't have a teacher to help fill the gaps. The book should have a good selection of problems. Lastly, the book should cover the material usually seen by most physics undergrads. I know most mechanics and E&M courses are given during 2 semesters, so the book should be advanced enough to be used as a second course in the subject.

    Here are the books I have so far:
    Classical mechanics: ?
    E&M: Griffith
    Thermodynamics: ?
    waves/optics: ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2012 #2
    Oh yeah, one more thing. If you guys could recommend video lectures with the appropriate level for the book suggestions, that would be awesome. I know classical physics has a pretty standard order in which things are presented, so it should be fairly easy for me to match the video lectures with book sections.
  4. Mar 4, 2012 #3
    Taylor has a nice mechanics book. I've also heard good things about Marion/Thornton, although I haven't used it myself.
  5. Mar 4, 2012 #4
    I took a one semester classical mechanics class (our school condensed the two semester sequence into one long one-semester course) where we used Marion and Thornton. It is a brutal book to get through 11 of the 14ish chapters in one semester. It's very mathematical, but this can make certain things more clear. It isn't far from the level of Goldstein either, so if you get through this book I think you shouldn't have a problem getting through Goldstein (and one professor even recommended Landau-Lifgarbagez mechanics).

    As for E&M, Griffith's is certainly the best book for that in my opinion. He explains things very clearly without leaving out any detail. There are end of section exercises that are somewhat straightforward, and then some very challenging problems at the end of the chapters. They will prepare you for Jackson if you do everything properly.

    Thermodynamics you should use Reif's book as it's something of the standard (kind of like Griffith's E&M). My course hasn't been using it but in past years my school has done so, and everything I've heard of the book has been very positive.

    I don't know anything about optics, but you also forgot quantum mechanics. I don't know if you plan on studying that, but if you do generally it's easier to tackle harder QM if you take a modern physics course. Also, I've mentioned being prepared for graduate physics, but I don't know if that is your intention.
  6. Mar 4, 2012 #5


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    For Optics the standard book here is Hecht's "Optics". I really like that book. You can't go wrong with that book in my opinion.
    Edit: For a more advanced book on Optics, Born & Wolf's is also used.
    In Classical mechanics, Landau & Lifgarbagez's volume I is used as well as the already mentionned Goldstein in my university.
    For E&M we use Jackson's book and occasionally Griffith's book because our professor doesn't like the latter. We passed from Resnick-Halliday's to Jackson in 1 semester, I couldn't handle the transition so I'll have to completly retake that course. Jackson is a tough one, but it's used as an upper undergraduate level textbook here.
  7. Mar 4, 2012 #6
    Some may interpret this as an artifact of my lack of experience with other textbooks, but I cannot recommend Griffiths enough for E&M and quantum (I also like his elementary particles book, though I rarely hear people even mention that one). His style is very conversational, and I cannot imagine having tackled upper-level E&M without him.
  8. Mar 4, 2012 #7
    I would recommend his E&M book with zero hesitation but not his quantum book as quickly. Quantum is weird. I think he decided to handle that by taking his nonchalant style over the edge. His book is good, but leaves a lot to be desired. Personally, I'd put Shankar or Cohen-Tannoudji above Griffiths.

    E&M: Griffiths
    Quantum: Shankar + Griffiths but mostly Shankar.
    Thermal/Statistical Physics: Schroeder (although, if you are mathematically mature enough, you may not like it at all)
    Classical Mechanics: Taylor

    No surprise you couldn't handle it, that's absolutely ridiculous.
  9. Mar 4, 2012 #8
    Cohen-Tannoudji is undoubtedly more comprehensive, but I could not bring myself to recommend that as a first step into learning quantum. If you already have an idea of what you are doing it is a good way to rapidly expand your knowledge base, but, to give an example, I found its discussion of braket notation totally impenetrable until I already knew what that was.
  10. Mar 4, 2012 #9
    That's fair, it is a tricky book for sure. Ehhhh Griffiths may be the best for self study.
  11. Mar 4, 2012 #10
    For quantum mechanics, it would be easier to start out with a modern physics presentation I think. Or, if you like, tackle Griffith's first. The higher level after that would be, as someone else suggested also, Shankar. There is also Sakurai's (modern) quantum book which I've heard is on par with Shankar's.
  12. Mar 4, 2012 #11
    Sakurai is the greatest book there is (at least for the first half) but it's too advanced for a first exposure. It's legitimate graduate level throughout.
  13. Mar 5, 2012 #12
  14. Mar 5, 2012 #13
    For thermal. Kittel and Kroemer's Thermal Physics
    Also Kittel wrote a book on Solid State that seems pretty good.
  15. Mar 5, 2012 #14
    Also, can someone create some sort of wiki link that tracks this information?
  16. Mar 5, 2012 #15
    Have you taken introductory physics yet? If not, pick up both volumes of Physics by Resnick, Halliday, and Krane.

    Before you attempt upper level physics, you should consult a textbook on ordinary and partial differential equations. The standard textbooks are Elementary Differential Equations with Boundary Value Problems by Penney and Edwards or Elementary Differential Equations and Boundary Value Problems by Boyce and DiPrima. Either textbook will suffice, but be sure you purchase a version that includes "Boundary Value Problems" in its title. The Boas textbook is good, but I think you'll benefit more from learning the mathematics in a slightly more mathematical context.

    Now you're ready to tackle upper level physics. :)

    Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems - Marion and Thornton
    Electromagnetic Fields - Wangsness
    Optics - Hecht
    Principles of Quantum Mechanics - Shankar
    Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics - Reif
    Introduction to Solid State Physics - Kittel
  17. Mar 5, 2012 #16
    I'm going to assume that was sarcasm. Would you mind posting the link to the wiki?
  18. Mar 5, 2012 #17
    I have taken introductory (calculus based) mechanics, E&M and optics/waves. I'll look up the ODE/PDE textbooks. I have touched the subject in Calc III and in some of my EE courses but nothing very in-depth.

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions by the way, I really appreciate all the comments you guys gave me :D

  19. Mar 5, 2012 #18
    No sarcasm intended. Being quite serious here.

    The annoying thing is that there is more than enough raw stuff on the internet to allow someone to self-study an undergraduate physics degree. The problem is that I don't know of anyone that has put this together into one "package". Wikipedia is an example of how people can "self-organize" to create an encyclopedia, and I was wondering if there is a wiki page in which someone has organized all of this information to create a "do it yourself undergraduate physics degree."
  20. Mar 5, 2012 #19
    One other book you should take a look at is "Div Grad Curl Are Dead" which is on the web.

    It essentially reteaches Calculus II in using better concepts that are more useful for theoretical physics.
  21. Mar 5, 2012 #20
    Oh my, that book looks incredible. +1 for my summer reading. Thanks for posting that.
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