Upper Division Classical Mechanics for Dummies?

Well, I took a junior level classical mechanics course. We used Marion (the 4th edition). I guess I’m retarded or something because it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me… My professor didn’t help much either (most students “got him” but he just didn’t mesh with my learning style)… Anyway, I got a charity pass despite my terrible exam scores, but I know I didn’t learn a damn thing… I’m taking some time off right now, but when I go back to school, I’d like to really “get it” because I want to go to grad. school someday. I’m not a dumb person – I usually do okay, but not with classical mechanics at this intermediate level! Would the Taylor book be a good thing to try? I’ve heard a lot of good things about it (like that it sort of reviews a lot of the needed math in detail which would be great cause it’s been a while), but I don’t want to waste my money unless you guys think it is a good book. It doesn’t have to be Taylor; I’m open to suggestions. Please note that I’m going to be using it for self-study, so it really needs to be clear and have lots of worked problems and/or an available solutions manual (or at least be Cramster supported so I can look at the solutions to make sure I’m catching on). Please, no recommendations for 1st year books. I have a good one for reference plus I did okay at that level but now need a more rigorous book which includes that Hamiltonian and Lagrangian stuff and the necessary background to prep me for things like Goldstein (the mere thought of which scares me with my current lack of comprehension)… Please, no arrogant cocky responses from mechanics geniuses who sailed through intermediate mechanics and beyond… Responses from nice understanding educators and/or more advanced students who first struggled but finally “got it” are very appreciated!
No help yet? I know somebody had to have struggled with Classical Mechanics a bit... I don't think it is so much the concepts - it is just that I need to see them applied to solving problems and need a book that provides guidance in dealing with the notation/math... Please, do not suggest "elegant" or "concise" books... I really want to learn this stuff (i.e. get a strong intuitive grasp of it), so somebody please recommend something...
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Gold Member
I don't know if my comment is welcome because I didn't take Classical Mechanics yet, but next term I will. The suggested books are the one of Goldstein (you mentioned it I know) and landau-lifgarbagez's one on classical mechanics. I remember to have read on this forum another more recent book on CM. If someone could tell the title to you, I'm sure you'd be happy. And a book for dummies at this level (Lagrangian, Hamiltonian)... I'm not sure you'll ever find one. Why is the course difficult for you to grasp? Is it because of the math... everything? In any case, you have to make a great effort to understand this new material to you.
It would help maybe if you could tell us where your weaknesses are, what courses have you taken that matters, etc. (For example, did you took linear algebra, a DE course. Did you do well in those courses?).
I plan to learn Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics at some point myself. I have heard Taylor mentioned before in my searches. Another one I've come across is Lagrangian and Hamiltonian Mechanics by Calkin. Although, that's all I can say about them. I do know that Calkin has a solutions manual, which helps for self-study.

There is also Mechanics by Landau and Lifgarbagez. This is the best from what I hear, but it is very short and sweet. It seems like it doesn't have much discussion or in between the lines type stuff. Surely someone on here can give you more detailed advice though.
Thanks fluidistic... All comments are welcome but hopefully someone else who's a grad. school or professor might have more experience with these types of books to help me out because I really need advice from a person who has already been through intermediate classical mechanics (at undergrad. junior level). Yes, I've taken DE and linear algebra. I did okay in them, but it has been a while... I've heard that the Landau book is one of those elegant type books, but I don't know... I basically need something between the level of 1st year intro. mechanics and Marion 4th ed so it will enable me to work through Marion (or a similar level book) to truly understand before I attempt Goldstein... I'm not some ivy league or MIT person, so my state public college doesn't use Goldstein at the undergrad. level. I'm assuming you're a super brain or something if they use Goldstein for undergrads at your school... Like I said, your comments are very welcome, but I don't think you're the type of person who can really help a more average student like myself... I'm just a simple person who likes physics and wants to learn classical mechanics better... I maybe want to get a masters and teach at a junior college someday because I'm not PhD material... I'm willing to put in the effort and know I can accomplish my goals eventually. I know it will be hard for me, but I don't mind that because I really do like physics a lot. Any other book suggestions from anybody? Thanks in advance!

PS Thanks N!kofeyn, I'll check into the Calkin book you mentioned. I've never heard of it, but it might be exactly what I need... Thanks guys.


Science Advisor
Gold Member
I also took mechanics from Marion and Thornton (3rd edition back then). I thought that it was okay, but not terribly enlightening. I agree that Goldstein and L&L are higher level than Marion, and make no sense if Marion is already a challenge. In fact, the physics dept. at my school had two different intermediate mechanics courses - one for hard-core majors interested in physics grad school (used Goldstein and L&L), and the one for us wimps (Marion). I was an electrical engineering major taking the course just for fun, so picked the wimpy one with no regrets.

If you are looking for another text, it is worthwhile to at least look at free books online:


Anyway, I have at least flipped through Taylor and read a few small sections, and I think that it is better written than Marion, and includes answers to a fairly large number of problems. In particular, Taylor does a more thorough job of discussing energy early in the book, so that when Lagrangian and Hamiltonian dynamics is covered the reader is better prepared. Overall, Taylor is at about the same level as Marion, though, so may not be what you are looking for. Perhaps your library or the college bookstore has a copy you can flip through?

good luck,

I recommend Mechanics by Symon. It is written in such a way unlike the Marion book (yes my mechanics classes used the Marion book too), and it also follows an order very similar to the Marion book. In my spare time I read Symon so I can get additional insights into mechanics since I learned nothing from the Marion book and my horrible professor.



Homework Helper
Gold Member
Taylor is a great book in almost every respect. I used it in my undergrad CM class, and loved it. In a sense, I consider this book the "Griffith's of Classical Mechanics." Well written, fun to learn from, good problems.

However, his relativity section is annoying. His use of x_4 as the time coordinate is extremely antiquated and annoying. I think it causes extra confusion, especially when you try to compare what he does with other books, which use the more common x_0 for the time coordinate and thus all matrices are organized differently from Taylor's. Be aware of this should you get the book.
Marion and Thorton is great as a referance, I cannot believe people actually use it to learn Classical for the first time though.

Taylor is about as close to "Dummies" as it gets. Ya gotta remember that you are dealing with theoretical physics at this point, so the material has to get more detailed, rigorous and more general all at the same time. I do not think Classical Mechanics is easy at all. I am taking it myself right now and I use Taylor and I am also having a hard time, if Thorton was my class text and if thats the only text I had as a referance, Id be in a much much tougher situation.

Taylor is it my man! He makes it as clear as can be, but you gotta be active with your reading, so make sure you take notes when you read. Make sure you understand why he does what he does in the examples, make sure you do plenty of 1-star problems before moving on to harder problems, try doing the 1-Star problems immediately after you judiciously study a section.

It is not an easy subject at all!

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