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Intro Physics Self-study physics - not-quite-beginner

  1. Mar 12, 2015 #1
    I've spent the last 4 years doing a chemistry degree, and before that I did maths, chemistry and biology at 6th form. (that's junior & senior year at high school if you're from across the Atlantic). So I've learned about a decent amount of science but with a distinct lack of physics, which I'm sure you'll agree is a bad thing.

    Anyway, I've graduated now, I'm getting back into learning about science, and I've got my hands on a copy of that Mathematical Methods book by Boas from a mate of mine who is a physicist. It's pretty good; Boas uses decent "real life" examples where appropriate, but there is a definite lack of context to the stuff I'm learning at this stage.

    So I'm essentially looking for some decent textbooks that will suit someone at that not-quite-beginner level. I'm not looking for books that try to teach maths and physics alongside each other too much, as I can just refer to Boas when I realize there's a new bit of maths that needs learning.

    As well, coming from a science degree, I'm more comfortable with very dry textbooks (I mean anhydrous) that don't try to make learning fun at the expense of something else (normally an accurate depiction of what's really going on).

    So does anyone know of any books on classical mechanics, electromagnetism, optics etc. that would be particularly good for someone with a ready means of learning all the maths, a decent (albeit qualitative) understanding of a lot of the physical concepts that you encounter in chemistry, and who doesn't want a book aimed at complete beginners who are likely to lose focus if they get bored?

    Another question would be about the order to learn things in. It's pretty easy to buy a bunch of books, look up the module lists of a few university courses, and learn everything in the order a student of physics at that uni would. But then, uni courses are fraught with every administrative nightmare under the sun, so they're not always taught in the most efficient way. With that barrier out of the way, do you think it'd be better just to pile on the maths, and power through even though I'm learning things with (apparently/superficially/whatever) very little value, and then dive into the physics later on, or are there areas of physics you think are best met before certain aspects of maths.

    Bear in mind as well that I'm a human being with a life, and I'm not a genius, so responses that say you should just learn ALL THE MATHS followed by ALL THE PHYSICS will be met with derision.

    Thanks in advance, apologies for the essay!

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2015 #2


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    Well for EM I would recommend "A Student's guide to maxwells equations". It's like 20 bucks and it's what we use for both E&M courses as well as King (?). I'm not sure, I didn't get that one.

    I'm not really sure about books, I honestly learn most of my stuff online. Google knows everything. EVERYTHING.
  4. Mar 12, 2015 #3


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    Given the chemistry degree, I'm assuming that you've taken the full calculus sequence, and possibly differential equations and linear algebra. These are the main topics encountered at the beginner/intermediate level for most physics subjects in my experience. When taught properly, it's very driven by calculus. My favorite books are Kleppner and Kolenkow's "An Introduction to Mechanics," and Purcell's "Electricity and Magnetism." These books are classics for beginning physics. They're of the style that you like too. They don't bloat the books up with countless colorful pictures and unnecessary examples. The focus is on rigor and depth. They assume that one has a solid background in introductory calculus, and at least some familiarity with differential equations.

    Here's the K&K book - https://www.amazon.com/Introduction...6192143&sr=8-1&keywords=kleppner+and+kolenkow

    And the Purcell book - https://www.amazon.com/Electricity-Magnetism-Edward-M-Purcell/dp/1107014026/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  5. Mar 12, 2015 #4


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    I suggest an older edition of Halladay and Resnicks Fundamentals of Physics Extended edition as it will be readily found and inexpensive. It is a text book that pretty much covers all of undergraduate physics to some introductory level. When you find an area of physics that you want to explore into greater depth, it will prepare you for the next step, whichever direction that may be.
  6. Mar 12, 2015 #5
    Purcell's book and K&K's book are both good starting points for EM and CM respectively. If you want more advanced books on either subject that are more mathematically sophisticated, try Griffiths "Introduction to Electrodynamics" or Lorrain/Corson's "Electromagnetic Fields and Waves", and either Marion/Thornton's "Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems", or Fowles/Cassiday's "Analytical Mechanics".

    Furthermore, I'd imagine that QM would be extremely interesting to the chemist, and so I'd strongly recommend a few books. Townsend's "Quantum Mechanics: A Modern Approach" is a wonderful book which is often described as "undergraduate Sakurai" after the famous QM book at the graduate level by J.J. Sakurai, Zettili's book "Quantum Mechanics Concepts and Applications" is literally bursting with examples and worked problems and so I highly recommend it, and finally Griffiths' book "Introduction to Quantum Mechanics" (make sure you get the second edition - the first is terrible). The Griffiths QM book is a huge bother to many people (including me), but it does stress a very particular approach to QM that suites the beginner well. Most people complain about the lack of rigour and mathematical sophistication.
  7. Mar 13, 2015 #6
    Cheers for the responses, people!

    I've not yet done a whole bunch of calculus. Just A-level pretty much. A good way to explain the level I'm at is to say that in Boas, (nearly) everything is new, but nothing is difficult to grasp (yet - I'm only on chapter 4!).
    I've seen that K&K book praised a lot in my wandering around the internet, so that'll probably be a good place to start I should think.

    Definitely. We were given a pretty ridiculous overview of QM in chemistry, where everything was taught in terms of 'these 4 postulates' and tried to remain completely qualitative because there was basically no maths in the degree. Certainly none we were ever really expected to use. So I'll definitely make a bee-line for QM once I'm a bit more comfortable with calculus and Dirac notation and so on. Zetilli, from the way you described it, sounds right up my street. I don't have a teacher for any of this so as many worked examples and problems with solutions as possible is the way to go.
  8. Mar 13, 2015 #7
    It is worth mentioning that if you chose to use the Zettilli book, the first section (about 80 pages) is devoted entirely to the formal mathematics that are used in the remainder of the book. You could literally jumped straight into it.
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