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What should I read to get ahead?

  1. Jul 17, 2014 #1

    I'm an English Secondary School (Basically the same as High School) student of 16 years. I'm currently in the middle of my summer holiday after completing my GCSEs ('General Certificate of Secondary Education'). Next year I move on to my A-levels (physics included of course).

    My literal understanding of physics covers most widely notable areas (classical, relativity, quantum theory, string theory) to an extent, but my mathematical knowledge is very limited.

    I am currently reading/have read various light books on physics such as;
    Brief History of Time - Hawking
    The Meaning of it All - Feynman
    Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays - Hawking
    The Universe in a Nutshell - Hawking

    I am wondering where I should go from here; I want to advance my knowledge of physics independent of the pace of my education, and start to put maths behind the theories. The Feynman Lectures on Physics seemed a good option to start with , but is there something I should read first? Or is the content far too advanced for my level? Something else?

    I'm interested to see your opinions, recommendations for educational materials, and perhaps advice if you've "been there; done that".
    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I would look at the Tsokos book Physics for the IB Diploma. Its high-school physics but with more content and uses Calculus to describe things. That means of course that you need to understand Calculus and how its used.

    The light reading is good but even Physics students will tell you it leaves much to be desired. You don't fully learn how to connect the dots between results and the actual theory and are left hanging. I used to have this problem when I read these kinds of books as an undergrad Physics major.
  4. Jul 18, 2014 #3
    If you want to learn real physics, then you should probably start studying with the math. Sure, there are algebra based physics books that you can read right now. But why not actually learn calculus now? I recommend the Keisler book for you, it's free: https://www.math.wisc.edu/~keisler/calc.html
    It's a very well written book and makes calculus really easy (it's not dumbed down at all though). This is because it follows a highly nonstandard approach to calculus with infinitesimals. This is how calculus was first invented and how people have done it for centuries. It is also an approach that is very suitable for physics (way more suitable than the abstract approach that mathematicians follow now). A word of warning though, if you ever read another calculus book or take another calculus class, then you might find that things are done very different than this book. But I think that is a good thing to see several different approaches.
  5. Jul 18, 2014 #4
    Thank you very much for your advice jedishrfu and micromass, I'll start on the Keisler book today.

    Calculus doesn't tend to get mentioned much in England, is that because it's reserved for university or because we have a different way of covering the material? I have no idea. I'm sure it'll be very useful regardless.

    Concerning the light reading, yes I suppose it's not really 'real' physics. It's somewhat like replacing chemistry with explosions, entertaining and appealing to a wide audience, but not very helpful.
  6. Jul 18, 2014 #5

    George Jones

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    Calculus is covered in A-level maths. When I was in school, calculus also was covered in the final year of high school, but I learned the basics of it on my own a couple of years before this.

    I enjoy this type of "light reading"; I did in high school, and I still do.
  7. Jul 18, 2014 #6


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    Wakarimasen, a word of caution: before tackling calculus, be *very* comfortable with your algebra and trig. So many students here report that they "understand the concepts" but can't get good grades. Often it's because they can't solve the problems due to deficiencies in their algebra and trig.
  8. Jul 18, 2014 #7
    Yeah, I have to agree with Mm here, at the end of the day, it does come down to the math. Math is kind of the "street cred" of science. Take it for what you will, I didn't give it much importance when I was younger, but the inescapable conclusion is that if you wanna be a scientist, you better know your maths.
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