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What do you do when instructors inflict horrible books on you?

  1. Mar 5, 2012 #1
    Next fall I will be using Mathematical Methods for Physicists by Arfken and Quantum Mechanics with Basic Field Theory by Desai for graduate courses in mathematical methods and quantum physics.

    Both are reputed to be books hard to learn from. I looked inside at Desai's book and it seemed to be much more difficult to understand than some other books I've used in quantum.

    Is there anything that I can do to increase the ease of learning from these books?
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2012 #2
    Purchase another book? It is a means to an end - As long as you learn the same material to the same level I fail to realise the issue. If there is assigned questions borrow a freinds copy and photocopy the relevant pages.

    It is your education you choose the books you like best, this will make you a greater learner.
  4. Mar 5, 2012 #3
    thanks, in the past i've just bought whatever the instructors ordered me to buy and worked through them. i will not repeat this mistake in the future.
  5. Mar 5, 2012 #4
    Students often characterize textbooks as difficult when (a) they do not invest sufficient time into learning the material or (b) they do not invest sufficient time into reviewing the prerequisite material.

    I recommend that you review the prerequisite material over the summer. When your course begins, attend every lecture, read the chapters multiple times, and meet with your teacher regularly to clarify and/or fortify the concepts.
  6. Mar 5, 2012 #5
    Grab a bunch of books from the library and see which one "clicks" the best. I always do that, even if the assigned book is good. Sometimes if just helps hearing a different author explain it, or to read topics presented in slightly different orders.
  7. Mar 5, 2012 #6
    Instructors often characterize textbooks as good when already understand all of the material in it, meaning they don't actually have to learn the material from the book.
  8. Mar 5, 2012 #7
    that's not necessarily true. I heard Arfken does not have solutions to the problems. That is a major negative. There are books like that with very few solutions, few examples, etc. All these factors make it much more difficult to learn from, than a book that has a solutions manual, numerous worked examples, etc.

    Also, some books have typographic errors, small and/or hard to read fonts, or bad organization.

    Thank you, that's what I have in mind now. Would you consider "Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering" by Riley a good mathematical physics text to study from? The major plus is it has an answer book for every odd problem and numerous examples.

    In addition, what would you recommend for a readable graduate level quantum mechanics text that has numerous examples and a solutions page at the least?
  9. Mar 5, 2012 #8
    My main point was that other students' opinions should not deter you from reading a book. You should at least attempt to work through these books in a classroom setting before you dismiss them. The lack of solutions should motivate you to stay on track and meet with your professor when you're feeling uncertain about your answer.

    From your initial post, I assumed that your concerns were not aesthetic.
  10. Mar 5, 2012 #9
    Since it was mentioned, does anyone have a good alternative to Arfken/Weber's Mathematical Methods? Or is this the "standard" for a 2nd year mathematical physics class? I'm about halfway through the semester and I still can't get used to its style, but if there is nothing better then it'll have to do.
  11. Mar 5, 2012 #10


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    Boas is a common suggestion.
  12. Mar 5, 2012 #11


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    Arfken is really bad to learn from. However, it's a text I wish I could simply upload into my brain. It's very dense and the #1 general resource on my bookshelf. Whenever I need to recall some sort of mathematical procedure or area, I go to Arfken. Most of the time it will be all I need and only when I need a very in-depth treatment or obscure concept do I go to a more specialized text.
  13. Mar 5, 2012 #12
    I agree with this. Another more modern text, at about the level of Arfken and Weber is Hassani which is much better to learn from in my experience.
  14. Mar 5, 2012 #13
    Tbh, I think most of the time the problem with books not having solutions isn't that they don't have solutions, it's that the text doesn't prepare you for them or allow you to gain any meaningful insight.

    Sakurai - Modern Quantum Mechanics & Advnaced Quantum Mechanics
    Solutions on the last page - no
    Prepares you for the questions - yes

    Landau & Lifgarbagez - Quantum Mechanics, Non-Relatavistic
    Worked problems - yes!
    Prepares you for the questions - partially

    Landau & Lifgarbagez, dispite being an interesting book is a little outdated though.

    From a quick amazon search that Arfken book looks like a solid undergrad text somewhat like Mary Boas' Mathematical Methods textbook. It's got plenty of solutions along with GOOD questions you are prepared for throught the text or gives you a hint when you are not.
  15. Mar 5, 2012 #14
    thank you for the help. If Arfken really is similar to Boa's, then it shouldn't be too painful.

    What do you think of Shankar's book?
  16. Mar 5, 2012 #15
    I've never fully read Shankar's book but from what I have read it seems pretty similar to Sakurai's book, maybe a 'little' less advanced. The formalism chapter at the start will seem a little cryptic if your linear algebra is a little rusty, Sakurai's book does the formalism much better imo but if your linear algebra is fine, however, you won't have any bother with it.
  17. Mar 5, 2012 #16
    thank you, my linear algebra is particularly weak, i will take a look at Sakurai's book.
  18. Mar 6, 2012 #17


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    Ironically, I'm not sure books are the greatest teacher in school. Some of my best courses, the prof never went to the book. Just teaching in class and handouts.....and many, many questions asked during class. And even the worst book still has the basic information you need. Maybe not on a silver platter....but it's there. The homework problems should be more than adequate in any book.

    Also, take advantage of your prof's office hours. Stop in and talk about some homework problems or questions you have. You will not be able to bond with all of your profs....but some you certainly will....and some you will become lifetime friends if you're lucky.

    Take advantage of your fellow classmates as well. Reach out to people....get study groups together....again....your knowledge will go up.....along with your social life.
  19. Mar 6, 2012 #18
    Arfken's was the suggested book for my fifth MM course, but I rarely found it useful. I learned my fourier series from the first few pages of some Dover book "Fourier Series" (Russian author), my PDE's from in-class problems and Hartman's book, and my integral transforms from "Fourier & Laplace Transforms and their Application" (Cambridge Press).

    I also learned my Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics from books other than Goldstein/Landau, which were the texts that I was (unrealistically) supposed to be learning from.

    Just go to your library and pick out books one by one and read the specific chapter on the topic you're at and pick the one that minimizes the amount of blank-staring-at-a-page time as much as possible.
  20. Mar 6, 2012 #19
    I find Arfken impossible to learn from. You might get somewhere for a page or two and then he just skips steps without explaining them, and you can't even get 'a feel' for what's going on. I got to know the library *very* well. When I got stuck with Arfken, some other book usually helped me get past the sticking point... but there were dozens of sticking points and dozens of books needed... and hundreds of books I looked at... (Difficult game physics!)
  21. Mar 7, 2012 #20
    I tend to check out as many related books from the library as I can. I don't usually read them all in-depth, but a skim/light read over as many sources as possible seems to smooth out any rough patches in the set text(s) you may have to principally work from. It's extra work, but you ultimately finish up knowing more, so ... good luck.
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