Theoretical physics book for a high school student?

In summary, the conversation is about someone asking for book recommendations on theoretical physics, specifically for someone with limited knowledge in calculus and a high school student. Suggestions are given for books on differential geometry, topology, statistical mechanics, and electrodynamics, with recommendations to also learn classical mechanics before tackling QM or SR. Other recommendations include books by Roger Penrose, Mary L. Boas, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman. The conversation also touches on the importance of having a strong math background and the use of online resources for learning.
  • #1
Forcelima
Hi, can someone please recommend some books on theoretical physics?
I have limited knowledge in calculus (chain/product/quotient rule and a bit of anti-differentiation) and I plan to study purely from the textbook. If I need a more advanced understanding of maths, which I'm sure I do, can someone also please recommend a book with maths that would be suitable for a high school student interested in theoretical physics?

I'm aware of a thread with a similar question in the career guidance section, but it seems that he's had classes in physics at a tertiary level before.

Thank-you
 
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  • #2
I haven't read it yet, but Roger Penrose's The Road To Reality apparently explains all the laws of physics and gives the reader a heads up on the required maths knowledge first. Obviously if you want to see if you can avoid the math to begin with, not a good book, but if you're prepared to get a grip on just the math you need to know to understand physics, it's probably a good bet. Huge book though. Will require dedication I imagine.
 
  • #3
in order to properly understand theoretical physics like QFT or GR you really need a very strong background in calculus, linear algebra, topology (that varies ofcourse), differential geometry and many more. Besides you also need to know your physics very well...it costs a lot of time and energy to really understand theoretical physics and due to these high requirements, books for high school students do not exist (at least not those that go into these topics very thoroughly)...I suggest you start boosting up your math abilities and start learning QM and special relativity

marlon
 
  • #4
I don't mind maths, as long as the book explains it well. Is "The Road To Reality" the only good book for someone in my situation? I'm willing to spend time studying. What good books are there to start learning about QM and special relativity? I purchased "The Elegant Universe" on DVD but Briane Greene just kept repeating the same thing each chapter, he barely touched the topic of string theory.
 
  • #5
I'm surprised that Zapperz has not come and recommended Mary L. Boas' "Mathematical methods for the physical sciences". Or if you want, here's an online book on mathematical methods for physicists.

http://www.physics.miami.edu/nearing/mathmethods/

This should be sufficient in learning basic QM. Knowledge on classical physics would help too, as much of modern physics builds up on that, even though they're different.

If you've finished that material, you might want to read more on differential geometry/topology etc. and more of those topics covered and learn GR and QFT. Then you're most probably on your way to understand papers posted by theoretical physicists.

If you don't mind mathematics, i would advise you to pick up textbooks instead of books meant for the general public.

Good luck man.
 
  • #6
The way I see it is that it's rather useless and confusing to start learning QM or SR apart from a very superficial level before you have learned classical mechanics, statistical mechanics and electrodynamics properly.

Check some local university's webpages for what books they use for introductory courses. That's where I'd start self learning. Maybe ask around to confirm the books are good self learning too.

Is your wait for getting into university and learning from professors so long that you can't wait?
 
  • #7
Yes, 1.5 years till Uni is a long time. Please keep recommending books for me, I'm getting sleepy. If I need a deeper understanding of classical mechanics etc as inha says, then please recommend books that will build up to QM or SR.
I e-mailed the department of theoretical physics at the Australian National University two days ago but they have yet to reply.
 
  • #8
I don't think they're books which have classical physics specially leading up to QM or SR actually. Havent seen any myself.
 
  • #9
misogynisticfeminist said:
I don't think they're books which have classical physics specially leading up to QM or SR actually. Havent seen any myself.

Well a CM book like Goldstein that goes through Lagrangian and Hamiltionian mechanics gives a pretty good base to start learning QM on. But yeah it doesn't lead specially to QM.
 
  • #10
Forcelima said:
I don't mind maths, as long as the book explains it well. Is "The Road To Reality" the only good book for someone in my situation? I'm willing to spend time studying. What good books are there to start learning about QM and special relativity? I purchased "The Elegant Universe" on DVD but Briane Greene just kept repeating the same thing each chapter, he barely touched the topic of string theory.

Oh, for special relativity you can do worse than check out Albert Einstein's 'Relativity' - a book aimed at the layperson. As such, its coverage of general relativity isn't so good, generally banging on about the principal of equivilence and geometries for curved space, but the SR half is great.

Richard Feynman's 'QED - The Strange Theory of Light and Matter' is very light on the maths, so is a good introduction.

If and when you've done a bit more maths, Feynman's 3-volume Lectures on Physics, which I'm reading now, are excellent. You'll get the classical and statistical mechanics you need from Vol 1 and the electromagnetism you need in Vol 2 to be able to approach the QM in Vol 3 more confidentally. Best you read them in order as they cross-refer, although some of the lectures are repeated across more than one volume.

If you want to know whether or not you're ready for Feynman's Lectures, check out the two more pop-sci-orientated books drawing from them: 'Six Easy Pieces' and 'Six Not So Easy Pieces'. They're kind of a little sprawling, but you can flick through them in your local bookstore and see if you can follow them.

Of course, there's also the internet! Hyperphysics is a pretty good site for an intro to the conceptual side of modern physics, though skimps on some of the necessary explanations for the tougher stuff.
 
  • #11
now what type of theorretical physics are we talking about? QM & GR or the stuff that will allow you to build knowledge up till then?

the 1st year Univ. Level text: "Serway: Intro to Physics-Modern "Something"" is exceptional.
 
  • #12
Not sure what type of theoretical physics right now. I was hoping on learning a range of topics from a book then picking.

So I'll get
Serway: Intro to Physics-Modern
'Six Not So Easy Pieces'
'Six Easy Pieces'
'QED - The Strange Theory of Light and Matter'
and Feynman's 3-volume lecutres on physics?
 
  • #13
Wait! Don't get the Easy Pieces books AND the lectures... the former are extracted from the latter! I was just saying you could flick through the Easy Pieces to see if you can follow them and, if you can, you could get the lectures. I still think, of all the books recommended, Penrose's is the one most likely to give you both the mathematical and classical mechanics knowledge required to understand the concepts of a broad range of modern physics, since that is its raison d'etre. From that, moving onto the lectures should be easier.

Where are you from, BTW?
 
  • #14
Forcelima said:
Hi, can someone please recommend some books on theoretical physics?
I have limited knowledge in calculus (chain/product/quotient rule and a bit of anti-differentiation) and I plan to study purely from the textbook. If I need a more advanced understanding of maths, which I'm sure I do, can someone also please recommend a book with maths that would be suitable for a high school student interested in theoretical physics?
Start with Resnick & Halliday. When you're done, come back here...
 
  • #15
Im from Australia.

That Resnick & Halliday book is titled "Fundamentals of physics" right?
I also saw a book which one of the university uses for undergraduates, it's called "So you want to take physics" is that also good? I've asked my mum to order The Road To Reality.

If anyone lives in Melbourne, which I doubt but I'll ask anyway, which university is best for science? Australian National University, Monash University or The University of Melbourne?
 
  • #16
I don't know how to edit my post so I'm posting another one here. Physics at my high school is pretty boring and stopped me from becoming a physicist, we're learning about light, and how the wave theory supports the refraction of light(it's really really boring). I originally planned on getting a law degree but after reading about Isaac Newton and reading about string theory I became interested in physics. I was wondering if there are is anything to spark my interest in physics again? I'm pretty interested in physics but I also want to earn money and I know that theoretical physicists don't earn much.
I can definitely say I'd rather be a theoretical physicist than a lawyer if the pay were equal. Help!

Also, what category of physics does the Theory of Everything come under Not sure if that makes sense, if it does, then does it encompass a whole range of categories like string theory, quantum mechanics etc?
 
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  • #17
Find George Gamow's books "The world of Mr Tompkins" and "One-Two-Three-Infinity" which will spark your interest for modern physics.
 
  • #18
Forcelima said:
That Resnick & Halliday book is titled "Fundamentals of physics" right?

That's the one. It's a really common textbook for intro to *insert subject here* level courses.
 
  • #19
The most comprehensive introductory non-calculus textbook to Physics is Physics from John Cutnell and Kenneth Johnson. The book from Halliday and Resnick has calculus, but it is quite limited, so that can be used even by people who don't have a very solid calculus foundation.
 
  • #20
Ah. That's a bit far to post my now-redundant Easy Pieces books. I think a great lawyer probably earns more than a great physicist, although I've never been either. I don't think ToE falls into anyone branch of physics as it's speculative. String theory and M-theory are good places to start. Part of ToE is to reconcile QT and GR, so both are essential.
 
  • #21
P.S. Good on your mum. Can she send me a copy too?
 
  • #22
i finished resnick and halliday and it mentions at the place of explainin the photoelectric effect ...tht if u wish to study physics at higher levels...refer to graduate level books... what books are read by those studying physics at graduate level? i would like to go further
 
  • #23
  • #24
I highly recommend the books "The Illustrated A Brief History In Time", and "The Universe In A Nutshell" by Stephen Hawking. Both are very good books for all things theoretical physics.
 
  • #25
A 5-year-delayed revival for this thread, apparently :D.

Note, for the halliday/resnick book, you want Physics, not Fundamentals of Physics. Two very different books, with the latter being light on math. You can find bits of the latter online as well (google books? older editions?) and confirm it.
 
  • #26
Hrm, I can't edit my comment. A while ago I got this:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0393957489/?tag=pfamazon01-20

By some very nice thing, I ended up getting a very cheap used copy of a combined 1st/2nd volume, in case anyone is familiar with them.

can anyone give me some idea of what it is compared to whatever undergraduates use today? For my own odd little self-study, following the material is facilitated well enough by the explanations and problems, but I'd like to know what I might end up missing.
 
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  • #27
Forcelima said:
Physics at my high school is pretty boring and stopped me from becoming a physicist, we're learning about light, and how the wave theory supports the refraction of light(it's really really boring). I originally planned on getting a law degree but after reading about Isaac Newton and reading about string theory I became interested in physics. I was wondering if there are is anything to spark my interest in physics again?

If you want to get an overview picture of quantum physics (not the popular science view but the real thing) and what kind of background you need to learn it properly, try
http://de.arxiv.org/pdf/0810.1019v1
It is free, hence worth a try. It is probably in parts over your head (especially in the second half), but you can skip details if they are too heavy for you and continue in a diagonal reading fashion until things get more understandable again. I know a few people of your age who found this approach very inspiring.

You can see from reading which sort of math is used (at first mainly elementary differential equations, partial derivatives, and matrix calculus) - which will enable you to choose much better the other stuff you need to read to bring your background knowledge up front. You can get all the missing information from Wikipedia instead of from books you buy; in basic university level math, these pages are usually clear and very reliable. The more difficult part is (no matter what books you use) to get enough practice - this simply takes time and effort.
 
  • #28
a few suggestions :
# "Journey through genius" by William Dunham
# The Elegant Universe - Brian Greene
# In Search of the Big Bang - John Gribbinpty
# Blackholes and Timewarps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy - Kip Thorne
# Just Six Numbers - Martin Rees
# In Search of Schrodinger's Cat - John Gribbin
# Special Relativity - A. P. French.
# Six Easy Pieces/ Six Not So Easy Pieces - Richard Feynman
# Chaos by James Gleick
# The Fabric Of Reality by David Deutsch
# "The road to reality" by Roger Penrose
# Lee Smolin's book: "Three Roads to Quantum Gravity"
# Shankar - Prinicples of Quantum Mechanics (high level)
# A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
# Faster than the speed of light - Joao Magueijo
# The Fabric of the Cosmos Brain greene

Some of these are really easy and some are quite difficult (realatively) such Shankar's . I'd really recommend Road to Reality its great :)

Abdul Samad
 
  • #29
lompocus said:
A while ago I got this:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0393957489/?tag=pfamazon01-20

By some very nice thing, I ended up getting a very cheap used copy of a combined 1st/2nd volume, in case anyone is familiar with them.

Hm. It seems in November 2009 this book was cheap, judging by the review from that date, but now, in December 2010, the book is over $90. God this is irritating, as soon as a book is a little popular the publishers make it expensive.
 
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  • #30
In order, here are the books I think would benefit you the most. Probably won't finish in high school, but this is a nice self-study list that can continue through undergrad.

Read (1a) and (1b) concurrently.
(1a) Halliday and Resnick Fundamentals of Physics (because you need to understand intro physics before getting deep into theoretical physics)
(1b) Calculus by James Stewart. If you're comfortable with single-variable calc, read Ch. 13-17 to get multivariable calc. Otherwise, read Ch. 1-17.

(2a) Kleppner and Kolenkow Mechanics (first theoretical physics book. read the whole thing to get an intro to special relativity as well)
(2b) Tenenbaum and Pollard Ordinary Differential Equations

(3a) Griffiths Electrodynamics (can stop after Ch. 7 if you just want a basic course, otherwise read the whole thing)
(3b) Artin Algebra (get linear algebra and group theory in Ch. 1-7. If you'd like to get some more pure math in your curriculum, read the rest of the book too).

(4a) Goldstein Classical Mechanics
(4b) Eisberg and Resnick Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, etc. (not too mathematical, but great for motivating the Schrodinger eqn. can stop after Ch. 9 or so if you want)

(5a) Shankar Quantum Mechanics (best undergrad book on the subject. if it is too difficult, try Griffiths instead.)
(5b) Pathria Statistical Mechanics

(6) Schutz General Relativity.


Alternatively, if you are very ambitious, you can try reading the Greiner series of theoretical physics books. They are quite good, but filled with typos, so be on the lookout. There are 13 books in the series, and they go all the way through graduate level particle physics. I don't think they cover general relativity or string theory, but they do at least touch most modern areas of physics. The Landau series is a bit more complete I think, but more difficult -- save these books for the middle of your undergrad years.

Hope this helps
 
  • #31
lompocus said:
Hrm, I can't edit my comment. A while ago I got this:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0393957489/?tag=pfamazon01-20

By some very nice thing, I ended up getting a very cheap used copy of a combined 1st/2nd volume, in case anyone is familiar with them.

can anyone give me some idea of what it is compared to whatever undergraduates use today? For my own odd little self-study, following the material is facilitated well enough by the explanations and problems, but I'd like to know what I might end up missing.

That book is the textbook for MIT open course ware classical mechanics lectures. The OCW website let's you download the assignments which include references to the book, and it has solutions for the assigned problems too.
Not sure if anything's changed, but that course was recorded in 1999 as a first year course.
 
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1. What is theoretical physics?

Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that uses mathematical models and abstractions to explain and predict natural phenomena. It focuses on understanding the fundamental laws and principles that govern the behavior of the universe, rather than conducting experiments or collecting data.

2. Is a high school student ready for a theoretical physics book?

It depends on the individual student's level of interest and understanding of math and science. While theoretical physics can be challenging, there are books specifically written for high school students that provide a basic introduction to the subject.

3. What topics are typically covered in a theoretical physics book for high school students?

Some common topics include classical mechanics, relativity, quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics. These concepts are often presented in a simplified and more accessible manner compared to university-level textbooks.

4. Can a theoretical physics book be used as a textbook for a high school physics class?

It depends on the curriculum and the level of the class. While some high school physics classes may cover basic theoretical physics concepts, a dedicated theoretical physics book may be too advanced for a typical high school physics class.

5. Are there any benefits to reading a theoretical physics book as a high school student?

Yes, reading a theoretical physics book can help develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as provide a deeper understanding of the fundamental laws and principles of the universe. It can also inspire a passion for science and potentially lead to a career in physics or related fields.

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