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Thomas and Finney Calc to prep for Kleppner and Purcell Physics

  1. Oct 31, 2013 #1
    So I have been interested in trying to do some physics that require more heavy use of calculus. I plan on getting Kleppner's mechanics book as well as Purcells E&M book.

    Having been out of school for so long, I need to brush up on my calculus, and I was wondering what the best approach would be for getting ready. I have Thomas and Finney 9th edition calculus book which I used during my undergraduate study 15 years ago.

    Based on this calculus book, I was wondering how heavily I should dive into the problems. And which chapters I should stress more than others. I have gone through about a quarter of the book and doing about a dozen problems in each section, with the expectation that I will get more practice with these concepts when I tackle the Kleppner book.

    I am also curious about if this calculus book is enough to really get into the physics books mentioned.

    My initial goal was to get through Young and Freedman's University Physics book and then get a modern physics book. But now I am interested in really revisiting mechanics and electromagnetism more deeply. But I realize that tackling problems of this difficulty will need a bit more math prep work, I believe.

    Any guidance on how best to efficiently get through the Calculus prep work would be appreciated. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 1, 2013 #2


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    I would argue you should learn enough so that every question looks familiar. That is, so you can take any question and solve it given a fair amount of time. No problem should be so foreign that solving it requires more than a short period of thinking followed by routine.

    As for the second question, I think that book is perfectly fine for learning calculus. I would supplement it with MIT's videos/resources http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mathematics/18-01sc-single-variable-calculus-fall-2010/]here[/PLAIN] [Broken] (and in the other versions of that course), if it helps.

    About efficiency, focus on problems and how to solve them, that you give you good feedback as to when you know enough to move on.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Nov 1, 2013 #3
    Thanks. I have been trying to pick a good variety of problems in each section and seem to be doing pretty good so far. I will keep at it and look at the MIT OCW materials when I get a chance.

    Is there any glaring area that this Calc book would not cover well enough to really tackle the aforementioned Physics books?
  5. Nov 2, 2013 #4


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    It looks very comprehensive. If you remember that calculus is about relating rates of change to total change and applying this knowledge to questions about rates of change, be they physics questions or otherwise, any book that conveys that knowledge is good enough really. I would say this book if anything is more comprehensive than you strictly need. Chapter 8 for example (series, convergence) is not required and chapter 9 is really there to prepare you for the math in chapters 10-14.

    I personally would focus on chapters 1-7, mastering those techniques, and chapters 10-14 I would leave till later, till you are refreshed and willing to learn what is more difficult than the earlier chapters. Chapters 8 and 9.1-9.3 are not required, and the rest of chapter 9 (polar coordinates) you could leave till later if you decide to do the polar stuff in one go. That I would actually recommend, focusing on rectangular coordinates in 10-14 if they become overwhelming.
  6. Nov 2, 2013 #5
    Thanks verty, sounds like a good plan. I will likely work up through Ch 7 and then dive right into the Mechanics book. I think 10-14 will eventually be real important but I will get there when the time comes. I appreciate the response!
  7. Nov 2, 2013 #6


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    Keep in mind that you need to know calculus 3 before delving into Purcell. Purcell tries to cover the necessary calculus 3 in the text itself but in my opinion it's never good to learn math from a physics book.
  8. Nov 2, 2013 #7
    Thanks for the heads up! I will likely finish up the remaining Calc chapters before moving onto the Purcell.
  9. Nov 2, 2013 #8


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    Have fun with Kleppner! I can't emphasize just how awesome that book is; I had a great time going through it, more so than nearly every other physics book I've ever dedicated myself to.
  10. Nov 2, 2013 #9
    That is great to hear! I did go through mechanics in my Physics course as well as a separate engineering mechanics course in the past. I was finding the questions in Young and Freedman uninteresting this time around so want a bit more challenge.

    I have not picked up the book yet because the second edition is not released until end of year, but I do have it on preorder. Until then, I will be doing Calc and some problems from the Y&F book!
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