Good popular physics books

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3 Responses to Good popular physics books

  1. Kaleb says:

    I am a post-Master of Mathematics student who decided (for fun) to re-take Physics I and II recently. Thankfully, I chose to take them at a place that uses your text! (I’m a huge fan!) The way I learned physics originally (in the late nineties) using Ohanian is quite similar to the way [call it the F=ma way] they teach it at the local university (although more rigorously as I didn’t get formula or “cheat” sheets at my undergraduate institution) where I instruct mathematics courses. However, only after re-taking Physics at a local two-year college with your text [call it the momentum way] do I feel that I truly understand it now. In fact, tutoring someone (from the university) this summer who was learning by the F=ma way showed me how much more difficult and more confusing learning physics could be than if one just used the elegant momentum way instead. For example, I’ve always been confused as to what “acceleration” really is—apart from symbolic expressions—because I have no everyday experiential knowledge of instantaneous acceleration. However, I quite easily understand the concept of momentum and the instanteous change of momentum from experience—I can easily explain what this is to anyone I meet. So, the Momentum Principle was a complete godsend to me. Furthermore, we know that quantities such as velocity and acceleration are not conserved; so, why there is this obsession to teach a non-intuitive, non-conserved quantity like acceleration, I’ll never know (I mean I understand why, but I now disagree with that approach). Additionally, I appreciated your early implementation of vectors AND your continued usage of them. It made calculation SO much easier and more intuitive! Contrasted with what I’m seeing done with the F=ma way where vectors appear in Chapter 2 but then everything after that always breaks things into components without even writing the vector down (talk about pointless!). (Did I mention that Newton’s Laws—the main focus of the first semester course—aren’t mentioned until the third chapter and momentum not until the eighth?)

    With all that established, I suppose I should get to my point for writing. I finished my second semester of Physics with the spring semester, and I find myself having reignited my original passion for it (having pursued my passion for mathematics now for 30+ years). But I don’t know where to go from here! There are a few chapters from your text that we didn’t go over in class that I am now reading and working through, but I’m ready for the re-taking of Modern Physics / Physics III and beyond. Since you’re the author of the text which brought me back to my old love, I was hoping you might have resources that help me connect with the later concepts the same way you helped me connect with Newton’s Laws and Maxwell’s Equations. Thankfully (especially during my second semester), I had an instructor who was willing to talk about some of the more advanced mathematics as it related to the physics in the book (although you included at least the jumping off point for most of what we talked about in your text, too). So, here I am—ready for more and hoping you have some resources that abandon the “old way” for a more large principle / “natural” way of what’s next.

    P.S. I taught Calculus III before I finished my re-taking of Physics II, and when we arrived at the sections of vector calculus, I taught it in a purely mathematical way since I didn’t truly “understand” it. However, now—after discovering how they came to be—I understand what the curl and divergence really are and what the deeper meaning and purpose of the vector calculus theorems. I no longer cringe at the thought of Calculus III and, actually, am excited at the idea of teaching it again. This time I have so much that you taught me to share and many examples that actually mean something.

  2. I am of course delighted and gratified that Matter & Interactions served your interests so well. A colleague at Purdue, Mark Haugan, has been teaching the “modern physics” course in a very different way, based on the fact that engineering and science students at Purdue take M&I before that course, and he exploits the very different view of physics that these students acquire. He’s thinking about writing a textbook, but there’s nothing currently.

    I think your best bet would be to work through the superb “Feynman Lectures on Physics”. As you can see in one of my other blog articles, Teaching from that textbook had a big impact on me, and using it for intermediate E&M as an undergraduate had a big impact on Ruth Chabay, co-author of M&I.

    • Kaleb says:

      Funny that you mention the Feynman Lectures as I have both the book-form and audio-form of them in the stack of texts I’m working through. Guess Ill move them up in the stacks. 🙂

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