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There is no good basic physics book.

  1. Jan 18, 2013 #1
    I've come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a good physics book. Every one has multiple problems with it. The only book which approaches the level of mathematical rigor necessary for learning the general principles of physics is Alonso-Finn. The rest are just plug-and-chug formulaic garbage in between filler text that describes phenomena in a very trivial way. Yet Alonso-Finn seems to be almost unused nowadays (perhaps because the level of mathematics -- while still quite low -- is way beyond most students) and unfortunately there are no solved problems in it, making it difficult to use for self-study.

    I mean, what's the problem? Why has nobody stepped up and written a physics book that explains elementary physics in the way real physicists use it? We have dozens of books that are more or less the same (Serway, Giancoli, Halliday, etc.). You'd think there'd be a market for a physics book that teaches vector potentials of the magnetic field, the continuity equation's derivation from the divergence theorem, matrices for coordinate transformations, etc. But instead we get these watered-down Mickey Mouse formulas and any insight into the underlying mathematics requires reverse-engineering every formula into the general mathematical principles. :cry:

    Please tell me I'm wrong and that somewhere there's a physics book that doesn't treat the reader like a trained ape. Anyone?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2013 #2
  4. Jan 18, 2013 #3
    Kleppner's book only has the answers to the exercises, though. I've compiled a lot of solutions provided by different professors, but still the book itself has that same problem as Alonso-Finn.

    I've never seen Morin's book before, but it seems like it's just a set of problems. Ultimately from my experience this means very little insight can be gained from the problems that expands upon the material provided already in the book -- it's more or less just like doing drills.

    Purcell, again like Alonso-Finn, has no solutions provided.

    All of these are also not what I'd consider basic physics books.
  5. Jan 18, 2013 #4


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    You are asking for too much. You have to learn to deal with the best that is available or create your own. The problems in Morin are top notch and if you can do those then you shouldn't have a problem with any other undergraduate mechanics book; tons of insight can be gained from his problems. I have no idea on what premise you say they can't. Your need for solutions will come to bite you later on when you do upper level physics courses because almost all of those texts do not have solutions. Get used to it while you still can.
  6. Jan 18, 2013 #5


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    I agree with micromass that K&K and Purcell are great. But those books are aimed at the top 10% of students at Berkeley or MIT. The problem is at the lower levels, covering 99% of physics students. The commercial offerings at those levels are dismal. However, there are also noncommercial possibilities: http://www.theassayer.org/cgi-bin/asbrowsesubject.cgi?class=Q#freeclassQC
  7. Jan 18, 2013 #6
    It won't bite me later on, it will help me in the meantime. I don't need solutions in the sense that I study directly from them -- I just find it a waste of time to spend hours on a problem for which I can't determine where I went wrong (if I even did -- many texts have errors) when I could try the problem and if after a while I still can't solve it, then I can look at the solutions and see that I kept overlooking a simple error or perhaps I completely misapplied the theory.

    Not having solutions in a text is perfectly fine when the class is organized and the instructor provides exercises and solutions and the syllabus outlines exactly what will be studied. But the problem is that frequently the instructor provides very little or -- in the case of self-study -- absolutely nothing at all. So what then? Then I'm at my current predicament: I need to learn physics to an unknown depth essentially on my own. So I naturally go for a book which covers each subject in a level that is more than adequate (which means learning primarily from Alonso-Finn at the moment with more advanced derivations provided by the excellent Wikipedia articles) But, as I said, without an instructor to actually instruct the class (or even provide a syllabus, really), I'm left rewriting the current physics books into a form that is sufficiently formal for a quantitative understanding of general physical principles. Because really, there is absolutely no reason for a physics text to avoid a formal description of phenomena considering that's precisely what physics is all about.

    As a side note, I think the main problem is that many texts are written for universities in the US. But why does it seem that vector calculus isn't even taught in the US system until the end of undergrad? Shouldn't vector calculus be a prerequisite for physics?
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2013
  8. Jan 18, 2013 #7
    I agree with Dunn regarding solutions. I learn over 2x faster with them.
  9. Jan 18, 2013 #8


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    Not true. Vector calculus is usually a 2nd-year course for scientists and engineers in the US.

    No, because if it was, students couldn't start physics until they were in their third years, and they would't finish physics until sometime in their fourth years. That would make it impossible for them to take other courses for which physics is a prerequisite.

    I teach physics for a living. My experience is that no more than one student out of 50 gets any benefit from problems that have complete solutions in the back of the book. Most simply read the solution and copy it down onto their paper -- as if I won't notice that the solution is copied word for word. The modern way of dealing with this problem is that you provide an online answer checker.
  10. Jan 18, 2013 #9
    Wow. That is incredibly stupid. They're just cheating themselves.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 17, 2017
  11. Jan 18, 2013 #10
    in my graduate level classes here's what happens:

    we got a book with full answers. that way we could teach ourselves because the professor realized that many students were not getting enough help from the lectures to learn at the expected level.

    the problems were either self made or from another book that we didn't know about.

    i believe that all books should have at least full answers for even or odd problems. those that want to study specialized subjects by themselves can do so. professors can just use a 2nd book or assign the problems without answers.

    however, for the OP, i think you're too unrealistic. general physics is an introduction to physics, 99% of people won't use it again.
  12. Jan 18, 2013 #11
    If you want the Fully solved Introductory Book then Use University Physics with Mastering Physics.or the book having (Instructors) solution manuals available.
  13. Jan 19, 2013 #12
    Are you talking about just a general physics text book?

    Because I always thought that the text book Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker did an excellent job of teaching general physics. There were so many worked out examples in each chapter that gave you a great foundation to solve the problems with each chapter.

    I've only ever used the first volume (there's two), so I don't know how in depth the second half is, but I thought for a general introductory physics book, it was quite superb.
  14. Jan 21, 2013 #13
    It depends if you really want what you're seeking for. The Laundau/Lifgarbagez 10-volume series should satisfy your criteria.
  15. Jan 23, 2013 #14
    Landau's books are for beginning graduate students.
  16. Jan 23, 2013 #15


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    I assumed the comment was irony.
  17. Jan 26, 2013 #16
    I'm only familiar with old editions of Halliday & Resnick, Physics. I still think the 3rd edition (the green and yellow one) is beautiful. Has the publisher screwed the books up that much?

    I'm not sure why anyone would expect a freshman physics text to cover magnetic potentials.
  18. Feb 4, 2013 #17
    And that's not even half of the story.
    Since you are referring to Alonso Finn in the singular, I assume you intend the 1100+ pages tome "Physics" that supposedly superseded the three volumes of "Fundamental University Physics".
    Well, that book is a watered down version of those three tomes. And it is the more watered down the further you move toward the end of it. Its covering of mechanics is somehow similar to what was given in the first volume of the older edition (albeit with less -unsolved but still very insightful - exercises); Electromagnetism, waves and optics chapters have been roughly halved in extent; but it's the modern physics part that is only a shadow of what the third volume was.

    There is an alarming trend in the way introductory physics book are being watered down. I am pretty sure that someday some publisher will come out with the idea of a coloring university physics book ("look, there's a bunch of color pictures like TV and you can put color in yourself, like in Paint!")

    My suggestion: try to find the three volumes of Alonso and Finn's Fundamental University Physics and get yourself a good exercise book for each branch of physics: mechanics, thermodynamics, EM and optics, QM. Might seems a costly endeavor at first, but it will repay you in the long term.
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