Using Zangwill for grad E&M instead of Jackson?

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I'm starting a physics PhD program in the fall. I asked a current student what textbooks are used, and was surprised that the textbook for electrodynamics was not Jackson. I got the impression that Jackson was the standard. E.g., My undergraduate institution (a top physics school) uses Jackson as a graduate E&M textbook for their grad program. I've heard the rumors about how hard and tedious the problems are, but I was actually kind of excited to have that experience... Is it recommended to self-study Jackson over the summer? Is Zangwill fine and Jackson better served as a reference book?
 

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vanhees71
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Well, I like Jackson pretty much, but for me it's not the best choice, because it's pretty traditional, starting with "non-relativistic" electrodynamics (which for me is a contradiction in itself in the 21st century). Also he committed the sin to switch to the SI in the 3rd edition. That's why I still prefer the 2nd edition.

My favorite standard source for E&M is Landau&Lifshitz vol. II, because it's starting with relativity first and then doing E&M right as the paradigmatic example of a relativistic (classical) field theory. It's also remarkable that L&L get the difficult problem of "radiation reaction" for point particles right. I'm not sure in which edition of the book it was treated in this way first, but it's remarkable anyway, because this problem was unsolved for so long a time, and the Landau-Lifshitz equation seems to be the one which comes closest to a solution of the issue (as far as classical point particles, which are a fictition of course, can be treated at all).

Zangwill is also a very good book, but the same what I said about Jackson also holds here: It's another book treating E&M as in the 19th century.
 
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I went through this about 40 years ago. My undergraduate university (in the top 20 nationally ranked) used Merzbacher for Quantum Mechanics. This was in the days before Sakurai, or Shankar. My grad school used Powell and Craseman, which I thought was not as good.

When it came time to take the course, my instructor mostly used his class notes, and did not treat the subject like either textbook. At times he taught deeper than those books went. Eventually I settled on reading sections of Powell and Craseman, Schiff, and Merzbacher. The fact that I had to learn from three different textbooks to find a good approach to all the subsections of QM, presented in class was an instructive experience. I was better for not having to concentrate on one development.

Sometimes professors use a textbook just for their problem sets, and some do not even do that.

I got Zangwill out of the college library to reply to this post. It is certainly a graduate level textbook at the level of Jackson. One thing I never liked about Jackson was the Introduction. Jackson's introduction presents material such as the feynman diagrams for the scattering of light by light, (I am not even sure this has been done to this day) and makes the reader not sure what material they are responsible for. Then he doubles back and does Coulomb's law.

After several readings, I have concluded Jackson is a good book to introduce physicists to work in theoretical physics, mostly field theory. The older book Stratton covers much of the same material with a different but no less rigorous approach. So far as I have seen. Zangwill promises to be a refreshing change from Jackson.

I do like some of the poetic statements in Jackon, chapter 7, or 8 regarding "nature exploiting her window" and details on signal velocity, including Brillouin precursors, "like Earthquake precursors" etc.

Jackson's problems have a reputation for difficulty. I never had much difficulty with these problems, and I have encountered harder ones in specialized areas in classical mechanics. I believe it was Einstein than said, the matter should be made as simple as possible, but not too simple. (something like that). I think problems should be challenging enough to get the important physics across but not, more difficult for their own sake. "Character building" exercises for physicist, have a place too, but for the most part, tedium is just a bore.
I have not tried any Zangwill problems yet, but the ones I have read over look challenging.

Finally, you have not really established for certain your instructor, (who may be a different instructor), than the current student will use Zangwill in place of Jackson.

Jackson is not a easy book to self-study from. If anything Zangwill looks more approachable, and your summer study, might be better spent with Zangwill.







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