# Why do people write new text books?

A lot of people seem to write text books on engineering. But my question is.....why bother?.

I am willing to bet you $20 bucks that if you go to a section on say, 'thermodynamics' and take 5 books at random written at the same level, you are going to find nearly identical content in all of them. In fact, they are probably even in nearly the same order. So why do people insist on re-writing one book after another? I say, we only have two books, that everyone revises and re-reads. The reason I say two is because you can usually prove things more than one way. But this way, you get two books of quality that can be a 'bible', if you will....and not the 50-100 books that regurgitate the same garbage. More quality, less quantity.... Ok, now you may call me ku-ray-zay! I think if your going to write a book and only repeat what other people have already done, you have no business writing books. Dont believe me, open a book by Hibbeler and then get Beer-Johnston. They are the same book. How is that not plagiarism? Last edited: ## Answers and Replies There's one good reason:$

brewnog
Gold Member
If a textbook is good enough, it will become the 'bible'. Why not let people write as many as they like? The good ones will get known, and the crap ones will not get noticed. Look at the 'bibles', like Timoshenko's, Mark's, Haywood's or Machinery's! Not just popular by chance. They're popular because they're actually really good.

I borrowed quite a few thermodynamics books at uni. Most had similar content, but the 'teaching' (or presentation) methods of one suited me more than the others. Other people wouldn't find my choice so helpful.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
It's the same reason why there are tons of Intro Physics text - they are different in how they APPROACH and PRESENT the subject. It is a matter of pedagogy. It is why many people prefer Griffith's E&M versus, let's say, Ritz-Milford-Christy text. Same material, different way of presentation.

I would also rather have too many to choose from rather than too few. Each one of us learn differently and have different approach to a new material. I would think that the more books there are, the greater the chance of finding one that suits one's needs, style, and preferences.

Zz.

Why not let people write as many as they like?

Because you get to points where the author is slopy. Also, a school will use a book written by a staff over a 'bible'.

There is no need for 50 books on the same subject. You can condense all of that into one book that is VERY good, and VERY tight in its logic, so that you dont need more than one book to understand whats going on!

brewnog
Gold Member
If the author is that sloppy, they won't get published. And if they do, nobody will buy the book, and it won't get a second publishing.

It's only like anything else. Why are there so many car manufacturers? Why are BMWs available when you could buy an Audi? You pay your money, and make your choice, based on your requirements and personal preference.

But thats not what you will get stuck with when you take a class at the university! (And everyone cant buy their textbook, and another 'better book' and read them both for every single class.)

Heres my gripe. I have a thread in the HW help section on a proof. Now if I am reading this textbook, and this author is showing me a proof. I should be able to logically and clearly follow all the steps.

I *could* get another book and see a different proof that gives me the same end result. But that means I know the material half way. The author wrote the proof the way he did for a reason. I should be able to understand *BOTH* ways on how and why things are being done. That is my entire point.

I fully agree that there should be more than one approach, but they should both be very very tight and precise.

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... so that you dont need more than one book to understand whats going on!
You certainly deserve that funniest member award ^^

I dont get it?

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I *could* get another book and see a different proof that gives me the same end result. But that means I know the material half way. The author wrote the proof the way he did for a reason. I should be able to understand *BOTH* ways how and why things are being done.

And that's when someone opts to write a new textbook, because for the class they are teaching, they are not satisfied that the material in any existing text focuses on the right thing. There are many levels of courses taught as well. One simply cannot include absolutely everything on a subject in one textbook of a manageable size and price, so they include what they think is most important. Others may not agree.

Also, content gets outdated, and authors die or retire, so old texts don't get updated, and instead, new ones get written to keep course content current. Look at what's in an introductory biology text from 15 years ago and today, and it's pretty different. When that level of rewriting and updating is necessary, a bunch of authors will decide to start working on textbooks, a bunch will hit the market, and the few good ones get most widely used.

Also, content gets outdated, and authors die or retire, so old texts don't get updated, and instead, new ones get written to keep course content current. Look at what's in an introductory biology text from 15 years ago and today, and it's pretty different. When that level of rewriting and updating is necessary, a bunch of authors will decide to start working on textbooks, a bunch will hit the market, and the few good ones get most widely used.

But thats the thing, the content of a good physics book is the same for nearly 200 years now. I am saying there should be a 'community book'. So it is a collective effort. Everything should be written is as few words as possible, but at the same time as clear as possible.

I had one line in my book that took the derivative of a sclar function w.r.t. vector function. Thats fine, except I could not get the same end result after trying for half a day. I asked a professor to show me the proof and it took us about 40 mins for him to do it on the top of his head. He then said, this is NOT something that is obvious unless someone shows you.

Now thats fine, but if your going to do things like that at least *mention* it in a footnote in the book. This kind of stuff annoys me to no end. You do NOT omit things like this.

For the rest of the book, the author does very good proofs. But its these slip ups here and there that REALLY make things unnecessarily hard.

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verty
Homework Helper
So do you mean a sort of physics wiki?

Heres a good example. Try and find a good book on vibrations. There are a LOT of books out there that are bad and full of mistakes. So, someone writes a new book that is no better than the last.

robphy
Homework Helper
Gold Member
But thats the thing, the content of a good physics book is the same for nearly 200 years now.
Really? Quantum Mechanics is not that old.

I am saying there should be a 'community book'. So it is a collective effort. Everything should be written is as few words as possible, but at the same time as clear as possible.
..and who decides what goes in? and what is "as clear as possible"?
As a teacher, I hate to be told what I should teach. I don't want to be micromanaged by some textbook. I need to make adjustments all of the time to coordinate with student preparation, with labs, with selected topics of interest, etc...

I haven't found a book [or a small set of books] that I would regard as "perfect" for me, for my students, for my colleagues... There are lots of good ideas out there.... which can't be funneled into a few texts. If it could, I would think that I'm in the wrong field.

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Right, I mean the 'classical' stuff, for example.

Im not telling anyone what to teach, far from it.

I haven't found a book [or a small set of books] that I would regard as "perfect" for me, for my students, for my colleagues... There are lots of good ideas out there.... which can't be funneled into a few texts. If it could, I would think that I'm in the wrong field.

Ah, exactly! What I am saying is that you can take a selection of 'good books' and work to improve them so that they are 'great' rather than re-write the same book over and over with different authors, example problems and order of material. Thats hardly anything 'different' from whats already been done.

Theres enough books out there, why not just improve those books?

But "great" differs from person to person according to needs & tastes. In fact that's exactly why we have different textbooks.
Theres enough books out there, why not just improve those books?
Well for one, copyright won't let you. You're welcome to contribute to my wiki.

But im saying that most of them are not 'different' at all! There nearly carbon copies!

If the author writes a book, I should understand his logic every step of the way (provided im paying attention). If I have to run to another book to understand whats going on, there is a *problem* with the book Im reading. The point of a book is to get a point across. If the author cant do that, trouble.

But im saying that most of them are not 'different' at all! There nearly carbon copies!
Don't blame other people because you're not discerning :tongue:

verty
Homework Helper
Is there a general understanding of what makes a good textbook?

That’s a good question. To me, a 'good' text book is one that is logical, clear, and concise the whole way through.

I can have 'two' good books, for example on the same material. One might explain something one way, the other book a different approach. Now those are two, *distinct*, good books. There is nothing wrong with more than one approach.

I think there is something entirely wrong with the same approach, shuffled in a different order, and slapped on with a new cover and author’s name.

brewnog
Gold Member
If they're nearly carbon copies, and both are saying the same thing, what's the problem? Either way you get the information you need.

Because you get 10 books with the same slopy wording. And after looking through a bunch of books in the library you finally find that one gem that explains it *clearly* and you realize there was no reason for any of the other books to omit this. All they had to do was spend a little time revising their work.

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robphy
Homework Helper
Gold Member
Im not telling anyone what to teach, far from it.
I am unhappy when someone tells me to teach a class and to use a certain textbook [or choose from a limited number of textbooks]. Certainly, I understand if I am new to the setup... but after a while, I would be unhappy if my choices are limited.

Ah, exactly! What I am saying is that you can take a selection of 'good books' and work to improve them so that they are 'great' rather than re-write the same book over and over with different authors, example problems and order of material. Thats hardly anything 'different' from whats already been done.

Theres enough books out there, why not just improve those books?

They are useful as a stepping stone... but physics is not so set in stone that only (say) two texts can cover all of the possibilities of scope, level, target audience, time-frame, etc...

When my attempt at improvement is sufficiently different, then I effectively have a new book... with a new author list. Of course, the original authors might not like my improvements. ...and what about the publishers?

Sometimes I think of the teaching of physics akin to the telling of a good story... with personalized emphasis from the story-teller. For example, should mechanics always be taught from a Newtonian-Principia viewpoint? Or is there a case for (say) a relativistic-mechanics motivation, a quantum-mechanics motivation, a statistical-mechanics motivation, a mechanical-engineering motivation, a computational-mechanics motivation, a mathematical motivation, a historical motivation, or maybe an activity-based motivation?

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I am unhappy when someone tells me to teach a class and to use a certain textbook [or choose from a limited number of textbooks]. Certainly, I understand if I am new to the setup... but after a while, I would be unhappy if my choices are limited.

But if you had a smaller list of books that were all very very good, that would be a different senario, no?

They are useful as a stepping stone... but physics is not so set in stone that only (say) two texts can cover all of the possibilities of scope, level, target audience, time-frame, etc...

Right! But what im saying is that for a given level, there can be a subset of great books, all with a unique style and approach.

But to be honest, I have seen a LOT of books where one is really no different from another. Its redundancy.

I have a textbook that is a 4th edition that has many, many mistakes in it! Probably because the author is too busy writing his next book... That's sad!

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Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Because you get 10 books with the same slopy wording. And after looking through a bunch of books in the library you finally find that one gem that explains it *clearly* and you realize there was no reason for any of the other books to omit this. All they had to do was spend a little time revising their work.
And that may be why those books are in the library and not assigned by your professors as required reading for your course. Some are written to be fairly complete references but would be too much to read in their entirety for a course, others to be supplements to lecture, others as brief reviews, others as complements to laboratory manuals or study guides. Some are meant to be used for courses for students majoring in the subject, others are meant for non-majors, some for high school students and others for college students. While the general content may be the same, the depth of coverage, order of topics, amount and type of problems at the end of chapters, types of examples provided, emphasis on text vs figures vs proofs varies, etc. Instructors assign the text that best suits the course as they wish to teach it.

Homework Helper
I think if your going to write a book and only repeat what other people have already done, you have no business writing books.

Dont believe me, open a book by Hibbeler and then get Beer-Johnston. They are the same book. How is that not plagiarism?

The whole point of writing (such) a book is to have your name on a cover and have it sold. That's basically the answer to your question.

If I have to run to another book to understand whats going on, there is a *problem* with the book Im reading. The point of a book is to get a point across. If the author cant do that, trouble.

Now, that's a relative point. Someone else would perhaps understand what's going on where you wouldn't, and vice versa.

The whole point of writing (such) a book is to have your name on a cover and have it sold. That's basically the answer to your question.

No! This is not supposed to be a 'best seller'. The point, the only point of a good textbook should be to convey the material to the reader in a clear and logical way.

If you are writing a book to put your name on it, they should ban your book from the library. This is exactly the redundancy im talking about. That paper could be made into toilet rolls and have a use.

Now, that's a relative point. Someone else would perhaps understand what's going on where you wouldn't, and vice versa.

Not really. If you know how to write and explain your ideas with words, anyone should be able to follow what you're talking about. If someone else does not understand (and they are paying strict attention) the book is fundamentally bad.

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Homework Helper
If you are writing a book to put your name on it, they should ban your book from the library. This is exactly the redundancy im talking about. That paper could be made into toilet rolls and have a use.

I agree, but I believe a lot of people do write books for that very reason. Take any 'good' book as an example, and let it be an older one. There are, for sure, many newer books on the subject, and, as you said, merely copies of each other. So, the logical question is: why do authors write such books? Are they aware of the fact that their books are almost the same? Of course they are. But their job is to write. And all of them think they're smarter than the other ones. So, they write a book. And that's it.

Not really. If you know how to write and explain your ideas with words, anyone should be able to follow what you're talking about. If someone else does not understand (and they are paying strict attention) the book is fundamentally bad.

Well, actually, after thinking it through, I could agree, but still, this is pretty much of an idealistic viewpoint, isn't it? I mean, I never came across a book that I completely understood the first time I read it, neither do I know someone who did. Perhaps I'm a retard (as the people I know)? :tongue2: I doubt it, so it's the books fault. Conclusion: there are no ideal books.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Not really. If you know how to write and explain your ideas with words, anyone should be able to follow what you're talking about. If someone else does not understand (and they are paying strict attention) the book is fundamentally bad.

Then maybe you should write your own textbook the way you think it should be done. :tongue: I think each textbook writer DOES think that's what they are doing, just people have different learning styles, so what is logical to one is clear as mud to another.

Then maybe you should write your own textbook the way you think it should be done. :tongue: I think each textbook writer DOES think that's what they are doing, just people have different learning styles, so what is logical to one is clear as mud to another.

:rofl: Pay attention! The point is to improve the books already out there! :rofl: :tongue2:

We dont need another book on whats been done a thousand times!

There are some cases where writing a new textbook in an old area can be really interesting.

I know a prof who is currently writing a book an Galois theory, which is a very old topic, but from a point of view of category theory, and adjoint functors.

I'll flesh out my answer to this question since it seems to have been ignored: It's all about money. If there's only one group making a textbook for a particular topic, and there are many buyers, it will be attractive to enter the market with a competing textbook. This will continue to happen until it is not profitable. That is why there are maybe two dozen basic physics textbooks; there's enough buyers to support parallel publication.

I really think if someone wants to write a textbook there should be sufficient justification to show why its any different from whats already been done.

When books have errors that go unfixed all the way up until the 4th edition, its time to flush out all the crapy books.

There really is no excuse for errors that far into publication.

(That is, unless you are shifting the chapters around so you can sell the "next" edition at higher prices without really "doing" anything to the book. If they just left the damn book alone things wouldnt get messed up.)

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I really think if someone wants to write a textbook there should be sufficient justification to show why its any different from whats already been done.
That's nice and idealistic, but not how the world of capitalism works. Book publishers want to make money just like everyone else does.

When books have errors that go unfixed all the way up until the 4th edition, its time to flush out all the crapy books.
Have you compared it to an older edition? Were the errors in those editions too, or were they introduced when new material was added? If the errors are in the new sections, you can always write to the authors/editors and inform them of the errors so they can be corrected in the next edition. I've done that when I've run across really bad errors.

It's also a heck of a lot of work to write a textbook, and I think there are plenty of authors who do it once and decide they never want to do it again, or they finally retire, so don't bother with updating new editions. Nobody else is able to take their work and call it their own to update it if the original writers have no interest in bothering with newer editions, so then someone who is dissatisfied with older texts gets to start from scratch to write a new one. Money is a motivation, but so is desiring a text that fits the class that person is currently teaching when they can't find any that really works for what they want to do.

D H
Staff Emeritus