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Book Recommendations For Maths To Astrophysics?

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the take-a-left-at-newton dept.

Math 276

sexy_flying_yoda writes "I have just graduated from 3 years doing a BSc in Mathematics in the UK and will be beginning an MSc in Astrophysics and Astronomy in September. I have very limited knowledge in physics, and as my new course of study is basically physics, I'm currently searching for books that will enable me to get up to speed. What books would you recommend that would help a mathematics graduate convert to a physicist?"

cancel ×


Sorry mate, this is the American site (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24170951)

I think you wanted []

-Anonymous Coward

Re:Sorry mate, this is the American site (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171051)

Ah, an American with an inferiority complex. What a refreshing change. /deadpan

Re:Sorry mate, this is the American site (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171119)

More like a reality complex about the state of American education and popular interests.

Pop-Sci but well worth it... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24170983)

I can heartily recommend "The road to reality" by Roger Penrose, there'll be a lot of stuff that's old-news to a math major, but it's essentially an undergraduate course in mathematical-physics for the lay-reader (of course this normally means scientist from another discipline :-)

Best of luck!

Re:Pop-Sci but well worth it... (2, Interesting)

efagerho (579859) | about 6 years ago | (#24171017)

I would assume that what he wants is a physics textbook that assumes that you're very fluent in math (not a book about handwaving), thus making the presentation a lot more dense, thus faster... I'm myself a Ph.D. student in math and I've tried to find such a book myself. It's very booring to read physics books that really do calculations the hard way (e.g. use pages to do something with matrices that directly follows from a theorem concerning linear operators etc.). Unfortunately, I don't think such books exists...

Re:Pop-Sci but well worth it... (1)

Geirzinho (1068316) | about 6 years ago | (#24171021)

This 1000-page brick is probably to long and theoretical to be of much practical value. It gives broad views of many fields, but many of them are already known to a BSc math (complex analysis) or too far-reaching (brane theory).

I'd recommend something more detailed in his specific fields of interest. Or rather leading up to his field of interest.

Re:Pop-Sci but well worth it... (3, Informative)

RedOctober (10155) | about 6 years ago | (#24171401)

Disagree. Sure there is some rehashing of material that mathematicians will be familiar with, but unless said mathematicians are familiar with applications in physics, the book will cover plenty of new material for them. Take complex analysis : the initial chapter on complex analysis will be a rehash, but later chapters on its applications in QM, QFT, GR will NOT be a rehash.

That it is very broad is a good thing: it looks like the reader WANTS an overview. For further detail, good use can be made of Penrose's excellent bibliography.

I've got a maths background, and found much of the maths in this book new: much of it is idiosyncratic to physics. The holes I had in my knowledge of physics I was able to fill in via Penrose's bibliography.

I'll finally say that "Dancing Wu Li", "Tao of Physics", etc, are all pop physics that are easy to get through, but useless to learn anything. The danger with these books is that you can walk away with a completely wrong understanding of what they're on about, and you wouldn't be able to tell. They are simply too vague and "new agey", too many slippery concepts that can't be taught properly without mathematics, and dangerous without the appropriate background.

Try a free online course with a berkeley webcast (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24170995)

Might I suggest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171009)

Some books on how to get women? I think you'll need to get up to speed.

Once you start down the path to astrophysics you'll be swarming in the ladies, and you need to know how to deal with them.

Re:Might I suggest... (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#24171251)

Some books on how to get women? I think you'll need to get up to speed. Once you start down the path to astrophysics you'll be swarming in the ladies, and you need to know how to deal with them.

One in fact wonders how large a percentage of buyers of Neil Strauss' The Game [] were math or physics majors. Male academics working in other fields are usually so surrounded by women, due to the high proportion of female to males in universities nowadays, that there's not much challenge.

Re:Might I suggest... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171277)

Male academics working in other fields are usually so surrounded by women, due to the high proportion of female to males in universities nowadays, that there's not much challenge.

Being surrounded by women doesn't mean that any of them want to talk to you.

Re:Might I suggest... (2, Funny)

hostyle (773991) | about 6 years ago | (#24171641)

You mean studying astrophysics can introduce you to generating your own gravity field and pulling nearby females into orbit? Where do I sign up?!

Re:Might I suggest... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | about 6 years ago | (#24171327)

> One in fact wonders how large a percentage of buyers of Neil Strauss' The Game were math or physics majors.

Unfortunately Neil Strauss' methods look like a lame joke compared to "Blueprint Decoded" from "Real Social Dynamics" (try O:-} [] or buy [] ).

It's not that the Mystery-Style was not the forefront of their knowledge back in the days... It's just that we are way more advanced now. So far that we know that in the long run, that method rather makes it worse.

I'm not associated to them in any other way than that I bought the dvd-set and am very impressed, because he comes very close to psychology and it helped me much.

Re:Might I suggest... (1)

The Bender (801382) | about 6 years ago | (#24171407)

wtf is that?

The website is more unintelligible than TimeCube [] !

Feynman lectures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171013)


Potential jobs, Space Pirate? (4, Funny)

jimmydevice (699057) | about 6 years ago | (#24171015)

"Well, with one degree in maths and another in astrophysics, it was either that or back to the dole queue on Monday" DNA

Re:Potential jobs, Space Pirate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171063)

I think Hitchhiker's Guide was a big subliminal influence in my astrophysics BSc.

University Physics by Harris Benson is a decently well written tome for undergrad level, and you should fly through it with a maths background. I'd suggest then moving onto astro specific books.

Other news... (0)

meburke (736645) | about 6 years ago | (#24171019)

Don't forget; Astrophysics requires a solid grounding in geophysics. any good advanced books in Geology and Geophysics will help you cover the math for Astrophysics, too.

Re:Other news... (1)

Geirzinho (1068316) | about 6 years ago | (#24171081)

Geophysics books would be of little value, I'm afraid. There are some overlapping fields, but these could be found in physics / astrophysics book, with more relevant examples.

Re:Other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171601)

what bollocks you speak sir

Feynman Lectures (5, Informative)

Rudisaurus (675580) | about 6 years ago | (#24171023)

Try "The Feynman Lectures on Physics", Vol.s I - III. I've never encountered a better reasonably high-level introduction to the topic, and they're eminently readable. Here's [] a site devoted to them.

Re:Feynman Lectures (2, Informative)

cjmilne (38848) | about 6 years ago | (#24171069)

I second this. As far as a general intro to Physics these are by far the best set you can get. Here's the amazon link [] . There are audio copies [] of the lectures as well.

One caveat, many Physics & Astrophysics/Astronomy Departments are separated & have little overlap so take a careful look at your MSc course curriculum before leaping to the conclusion that you need to learn large amounts of general physics.


Re:Feynman Lectures (2, Informative)

pallmall1 (882819) | about 6 years ago | (#24171553)

For a solid mathematical background (and a price that won't force your bank account to violate the second law of thermodynamics), try Fundamentals of Physics [] by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker. Excellent mathematical descriptions, but short on the kind of insight you can find in Feynman's work. A used, earlier edition costs very little and would be good reference for a person with a degree in mathematics.

Re:Feynman Lectures (1)

quizteamer (758717) | about 6 years ago | (#24171717)

If you've never taken a physics class, Halliday is the place to start. I know you have "limited knowledge" in physics. If you've taken calculus based physics courses, have you considered either an REA Physics Problem Solvers book or a Schaum's outline? It doesn't go into the detail that Halliday will but both will give you many problems to work out.

Re:Feynman Lectures (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 6 years ago | (#24171071)

Ooooh, forgot about those. But do get the audiobooks (with course notes) also.

Re:Feynman Lectures (1)

gTsiros (205624) | about 6 years ago | (#24171235)

came here to say the exact same thing.
(yes, i am a physicist... just not have completed my studies yet :( )

Re:Feynman Lectures (2, Informative)

massivefoot (922746) | about 6 years ago | (#24171479)

The Feynman lectures are good, and are pretty good at getting you to think about the physics, but are aimed at first year undergrads. I've just completed a BA in maths and I find them interesting, but a little easy.

I'd suggest just googling for course notes for the relevant topics. I'm assuming your vector calculus is already good. Other than that you need to know:
Basic QM
Probably some fluid dynamics
Special and general relativity
Statistical physics / thermodynamics
Some programming experience might also help, Fortran is still in quite common use in physics and is easy to learn.

If you really do want to buy dead trees, I recommend:
Quantum Mechanics by Alastair IM Rae (IOP publishing)
Gravity by James Hartle (Addison-Wesley)
Any of the Landau & Lifshitz books (Butterworth-Heinemann)

They should cover the relevant physics whilst not insulting your intelligence.

Re:Feynman Lectures (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171551)

As a physicist I should tell you that the Feyman Lectures on Physics are not really en vogue anymore. The style is often very nice and entertaining and they contain a few brilliant chapters. But they severely lack mathematics: hence inappropriate for a mathematician. They also lack a structure that allows you open the book at a random topic and teach yourself about just that.

I would recommend you to get a general Physics book like the Tipler,Mosca "Physics for Scientists and Engineers" which you can probably buy as a used book for cheap. Just so you have something to read before going to bed and get a general Idea about a myriad of physics topics.

And then you really want to learn analytical mechanics. Maybe the Landau, Lifshitz "Course of theoretical physics: Mechanics" isn't so bad... it might be a bit of an overkill, but the other ones that I like have not been translated yet.

After that it really depends what you want to specialize in:
If your goal is very mathematical like relativistic magneto-hydrodynamics you would need very different books from something like spectral lines or kinectic gases.

Intro Astrophysics (3, Informative)

RadicalRhinoceros (1145781) | about 6 years ago | (#24171027)

I'm not sure about recommending the intro physics book I had, but as far as intro astrophysics, there's no better than Carroll and Ostlie

Re:Intro Astrophysics (1)

Geirzinho (1068316) | about 6 years ago | (#24171099)

Seconded. It's 1000 pages of both facts and theory suitable at a BSc level of physics. Note that these authors appear stronger in solar than in cosmological physics, at least they cover this field much better...

Try the classics (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 6 years ago | (#24171033)

What books would you recommend that would help a mathematics graduate convert to a physicist?

The Tao of Physics []
The Dancing Wu Li Masters []
To get you thinking the right way, then, for a new classic, try:

The Road to Reality []
For some seriously heavy slogging.

Re:Try the classics (1)

gilroy (155262) | about 6 years ago | (#24171057)

The Tao of Physics
The Dancing Wu Li Masters

Guh. I know I'll engender flamage but I found these two books to be little more than dreck. It's been a long while since I read them but at my recollection, there was essentially zero useful science in them. It was a lot of "oh, isn't that coincidence MEANINGFUL...?"

Re:Try the classics (2, Interesting)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 6 years ago | (#24171337)

I'm afraid I'm old enough to have read both of them when they were first published, which probably colors my view. While I'll admit that neither of them contains any "useful" (i.e: applicable) science per se, I have to say that they were both "mind expanding"/"eye opening" regarding physics.

Tao taught me that where there was nothing (literally no thing), there could suddenly be a few particles which would almost instantaneously annihilate themselves, to leave "no thing" behind. The notion of the quantum ground state "bubbling" like that has never left me.

Wu Li (admittedly the fluffier of the two) demonstrated that commutativity does not apply to the real world, particularly in regards to electromagnetic radiation (polarization). I remain flabbergasted by this notion.

Sure, they're both "popular" science, but if you read them with an open mind, and let it wander, you'll find yourself pondering some of the wonder in physics.

Re:Try the classics (1)

John Allsup (987) | about 6 years ago | (#24171499)

Generally being aware of other directions of thought will, I expect, become more and more important in future -- current directions are getting heavily worked out and it's important to be aware of what might have been missed by the mainstream. Also, a popular science book can be read much more quickly than a serious textbook, so a one-to-one comparison is inappropriate -- read popular stuff for casual-but-enlightening bedtime reading and the more serious textbooks when you're at your best.

Roger Penrose - The road to reality (1)

alanw (1822) | about 6 years ago | (#24171039) []

Coincidentally, I started reading it last night, so a review will have to wait weeks/months(/years?)

Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171349)

Though nominally it does not assume any mathematical knowledge on the onset, the Road to Reality gives an unadulterated description of modern physics in more mathematical detail than any other book for common consumption. Unlike most physics books, which give a roughly chronological description of physics (teaching the classical Newtonian approximations before the correct modern theories), this book races through teaching math and then shows how general relativity and the standard model plop right out.

The book is quite dense and not for the faint hearted. If I recall, chapter 1 is the introduction, chapter 2 is on non-euclidean geometry, chapter 15 is gauge theory and fibre bundles, and they cover the basics of complex analysis, topology, and 10 billion other things. This is a book that will make you feel stupid. I never did slog my way through the whole thing, but for someone of your background and goals, it seems perfect.

If you want to go over classical mechanics and are a CS type person, may I suggest Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics [] , from the people who brought you Scheme. It's main strength, in my view, is cleaned up notation (I hate most mathematical notation) and a nice environment to "play" around in, which for a person of your background may not be as useful as it is to me. Still, it's free.

Physics for Dummies? (2, Funny)

William Robinson (875390) | about 6 years ago | (#24171043)

Re:Physics for Dummies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171137)

If he doesn't know much about physics, the Light and Matter [] series is worth a try. As a bonus, it's free (libre).

Feynman Lectures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171047)

Three words: "The Feynman Lectures". If you get through all three volumes, you will have a good grounding.....and they're an entertaining read too!!

Cover the foundation physics (1)

Geirzinho (1068316) | about 6 years ago | (#24171067)

You should cover all of the foundation physics. At least mechanics, electromagnetism, classical radiation, a ground course in modern physics, and heat theory.

Depending on your research topic, also pick up more advanced books in necessary fields. Eg. for cosmology, you'd want to be familiary with relativity and prior work in this area, while for plasma physics a strong knowledge of thermodynamics and radiation is necessary.

Actually, radiation is the thing to know anyway:)

This is UK we are talking about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171077) don't worry about it! I've had complete IDIOT friends go to what are considered top UK universities (not top-5, like Oxford or Cambridge, more like top-10) and breeze through the programs without actually learning anything.
So, you don't really need to learn any Astrophysics to get your degree, I mean they already accepted you without any background, right?
Yes, it looks like obvious trolling so mod away, but I don't have the time to analyze for those who don't know how the UK higher education system works (hint: $$)...

Re:This is UK we are talking about... (1)

xaxa (988988) | about 6 years ago | (#24171311) don't worry about it! I've had complete IDIOT friends go to what are considered top UK universities (not top-5, like Oxford or Cambridge, more like top-10) and breeze through the programs without actually learning anything.
So, you don't really need to learn any Astrophysics to get your degree, I mean they already accepted you without any background, right?
Yes, it looks like obvious trolling so mod away, but I don't have the time to analyze for those who don't know how the UK higher education system works (hint: $$)...

Not so much as political targets to have 50% of young people attend university. They can't make people more intelligent, so instead university has to be easier.

I don't know how much easier it gets as you go from a top-5 to a top-10, top-20 university (mostly because I go to a top-5 university and rarely discuss work with students who don't go to a similar place).

For the classical mechanics side of things.... (2, Informative)

Ibag (101144) | about 6 years ago | (#24171085)

I recommend "Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics" by V.I. Arnold for the classical mechanics side of things. I am not sure what to read for general relativity. The bit that I know I learned from "Semi-Riemannian Geometry" by Barret O'neil, but I don't feel that the book is a good place to learn general relativity unless you already have a very strong background in differential geometry. I hope this helps.

Re:For the classical mechanics side of things.... (2, Informative)

azaris (699901) | about 6 years ago | (#24171467)

I recommend "Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics" by V.I. Arnold

Seconded, but make sure you have another textbook in mechanics handy for the inevitability that you get confused by Arnold's presentation. Goldstein is probably a good choice.

Oh Boy, Math to Astro-Physics? (4, Funny)

smackenzie (912024) | about 6 years ago | (#24171091)

Re:Oh Boy, Math to Astro-Physics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171609)

Tipler is a standard first year physics test. Probably a good place to start / keep for reference.

This website's quite fun for idle browsing:

Many things (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171097)

There is a lot of books, actually too many to mention, in the end it's not about the book it's what you are learning...
I would recommend, that you study some Thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, analytical mechanics, and special relativity, at this point i think you will have a good base in things you will probably need to know later and a starting point to learn General relativity and actually start learning about astrophysics and cosmology.

Spivak video lectures on elementary mechanics (1)

Singularitarian2048 (1068276) | about 6 years ago | (#24171121)

Michael Spivak is a mathematician who wrote the very popular math textbook, Calculus on Manifolds, which you've probably used in a class. Apparently he has given some video lectures on elementary mechanics. I haven't watched them, but he's an excellent teacher so they are probably great. []

Have you read.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171127)

Letters to a young Mathematician by Ian Stewert? I'm a Biologist working in the Microfab Industry and it really inspired me. Hope you didn't pick the maverick guru as your advisor. But really just read it, it takes about 5 hours.

If you're scared of the subject, maybe you're approaching learning the wrong way?

I understand that you're getting an MS(wtf is an MS"c"? Is that asshole for MS?) But as a Math BSer, Astro/Physics should just be application. (not exactly but hopefully someone gets my Doppler shift.)

Re:Have you read.. (1)

Geirzinho (1068316) | about 6 years ago | (#24171165)

I understand that you're getting an MS(wtf is an MS"c"? Is that asshole for MS?)

Bachelor of science ( A more advanced and theory-focused degree...

Biologist turned software engineer (1)

DerCed (155038) | about 6 years ago | (#24171153)

I'll shamelessly hijack this post.

What books would you recommend for a molecular biologist who always wanted to study computer science but decided not to and now turns to software engineering?
I know lots of stuff, but lack some of the fundamentals and also applications of computer science and software engineering. I am currently reading those books, which are really helpful:

* The Elements of Computing Systems, Noam Nisan & Shimon Shocken
* Head First: Design Patterns

Could anyone recommend other books that "complete" my knowledge? Classics? Stuff about data structures, algorithms, programming theory.

I prefer books written in a fresh, modern style, if possible :-)

Re:Biologist turned software engineer (2, Informative)

mrboyd (1211932) | about 6 years ago | (#24171287)

Molecular biology to software engineer....

Try that: [] I mean someone has to program the bio-organism main nerves center to calculate FTL jump properly right?

ok, joke aside, this is the list of book I built and that we give to new recruits around here.
  • The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master (ISBN-10: 020161622X)
  • Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series) (ISBN-10: 0201633612)
  • AntiPatterns: Refactoring Software, Architectures, and Projects in Crisis (Paperback) (ISBN-10: 0471197130)
  • Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code (The Addison-Wesley Object Technology Series) (ISBN-10: 0201485672)
  • Data Structures and Algorithm Analysis in Java or C++ (Java: ISBN-10: 0201357542)
  • Art of Computer Programming, Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms (3rd Edition) (Art of Computer Programming Volume 1) (ISBN-10: 0201896834)
  • Internetworking with TCP/IP, Vol 1 (5th Edition) (ISBN-10: 0131876716)
  • The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems (ISBN-10: 0201379376 )
  • Joe Celko's SQL for Smarties: Advanced SQL Programming (ISBN-10: 1558605762)
  • Database Systems: The Complete Book (GOAL Series) (ISBN-10: 0130319953)
  • C Programming Language (2nd Edition) (ISBN-10: 0131103628)
  • JavaScript: The Definitive Guide (ISBN-10: 0596000480)

Please discuss. I'd love to know what other people would add to that list.

To the original question I would answer: Did you ask your future teachers? They teach physics for a living they should be able to tell you what background you need to understand their courses. They should know what book they use in class better than the hippies like me who troll slashdot instead of working.
Otherwise why don't you go look at the MIT opencourseware and see how the curriculum are organized. (

Re:Biologist turned software engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171333)

From my CS degree, completed in 1990.

Hopcroft + Ullman, Introduction to Automata theory, Languages and Computation

Date, An Introduction to Database systems

Winston + Horn, Lisp

Conte + Boor, Elementary Numerical Analysis An Algorithmic Approach

Stroustrup, C++ Programming Language

Paul Helman and Robert Veroff, Intermediate problem solving and data structures: walls and mirrors

Bruce J. MacLennan, Principles of Programming Languages

Recommended topics (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171161)

Most astronomy degrees are basically physics degrees with the addition of astronomy classes and without the 400 level physics courses. If you wish to prepare yourself for astrophysics I recommend the following topics:

1) Classical Electrodynamics (you need to know Maxwell's equations backwards and forwards--this usually takes a year at the undergraduate junior physics level). You need to be able to solve line integrals and surface integrals without blinking an eye.
2) Mathematical physics. Unless you have an applied math degree or focus, your math education isn't going to be a great help here. Courses in this area would include complex analysis, partial differential equations (that's graduate level physics baby!), and a shitload of knowledge knowing how to work with Fourier transforms, Laplace transforms, and series solutions to ordinary and partial differential equations. Your BSc in mathematics should cover up the other odds and ends (a little group theory, eigenvectors, eigenfunctions, Hilbert spaces, etc.)
3) Mechanics at the junior level. You need to know mainly how Hamiltonians and Lagrangian operators work. This is not the same thing as introductory mechanics or a statics and dynamics class. The important things you care are about energy functions, potential functions, and conserved quantities.
4) Quantum mechanics. You will probably get a lot of help at the graduate level here as most schools don't expect astronomy majors to have a lot of knowledge in this topic. Just make sure you know what the postulates of quantum mechanics are and some of the basic concepts (like state vectors, the Schrödinger equation, and Dirac notation). If possible, learn how the Hamiltonian and Lagrangian operators work in quantum mechanics.

The minimum of all of this that you should learn is the mathematical physics and classical electrodynamics portions. This entire list assumes that you have the 'basic' physics prerequisites for these courses as well.

GNAA Penis Rocket To The Moon Project (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171163)

sexy_flying_nigger writes
"I have just graduated from 3 years doing a clown in the ass in the UK and will be beginning a gorilla suited clown in Anal sex and Man boobs tit fuck in September. I have very limited knowledge in gay niggery, and as my new course of study is basically stupid honkey shit, I'm currently searching for gay niggers that will enable me to get balls deep. What books would you recommend that would help a clown sodomy graduate convert to a Gay Nigger Association of America Third Degree?"

GNAA Penis Rocket To The Moon Project: []

Byron and Fuller (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171167)

Frederick W. Byron, Jr and Robert W Fuller
Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics []
1992, Dover Books
ISBN 0-486-67164-X

This is a reprint of an original 1969 2 volume set by Addison Wesley, which will probably have a different ISBN.

Always Best To Go To The Source ... (5, Informative)

strelitsa (724743) | about 6 years ago | (#24171175)

I've audited several of MIT's OpenCourseWare offerings in Physics. Some are ridiculously easy while others have thrashed my intellectual behind back and forth across the Internet. And the best part? They're free. [] []

Re:Always Best To Go To The Source ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171363)

The video lectures by Prof. Walter Lewin are excellent. Click on Audio/Visual courses and find these under Physics.

tips from a physics nerd (1)

ocularDeathRay (760450) | about 6 years ago | (#24171177)

you should know that I have nothing more than a high school diploma, but physics was my favorite area of geekery for many years during and after school I had an awesome physics teacher for three years in high school.. actually the best teacher I ever had, so you may be way ahead of me on this stuff, but I have a couple of tips to pass on that helped me to understand some fairly advanced physics stuff. it is very important when you are getting started in physics, that you understand the historical time line of which theories were popular at different times.

I would recommend digging through a couple of those paperback physics overview kind of books. I don't know what the latest popular ones are, but I am talking about the ones that you find at a regular book store in the science section. I have read a bunch of these, they cover nothing in detail but discuss chronologically how each important physicist built on previous works. usually they start with newtonian stuff and work forward to present day.

since you already have a math background, I would say it is more important to go over stuff conceptually in the beginning. The most important book I can recommend, if you haven't already read it, is in search of shrodinger's cat: quantum physics and reality. by John Gribbin

that book will get your mind around the important ideas in quantum physics, making it much easier to apply math to it later.

good luck, --k

eggs (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171199)


and eggs

and ham

truly! hacv NELSO smoke

From an Astrophysicist (5, Informative)

laughing_badger (628416) | about 6 years ago | (#24171209)

I'll second those people recommending Feynman [] - great series of books.

Physics to a degree [] will get you thinking like a physicist - it covers most undergraduate topics in physics with tutorial style questions and answers.

I found Introduction to Modern Astrophysics [] an interesting read after I graduated. It covered most of the stuff we did at Birmingham and did so very well.

Our introductory book was Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics by Michael Zeilik, which was ok, and then Astrophysics: Stars Vol 1 by Richard Bowers and Terry Deeming, which was very good and Vol 2 similarly.

You don't mention what your course is going to cover or what its aim is - you are not going to cover the whole of astrophysics in 9 taught months. You also don't mention your interest in astrophysics - numerical simulation? So it is difficult to come up with any more specific recommendations.

Good luck anyhow. Post below with more info if you want any more detailed recommendations.

Re:From an Astrophysicist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171547)

I second the 'Intro to Modern Astrophysics' recommendation. I did my BSc in Nuclear Astrophysics in the UK, and we used it as a textbook. It has all the information you might need for your degree, but in a very readable way. Definitely recommended.

3rd Time (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | about 6 years ago | (#24171219)

"What I tell you three times is true." I'm saying it once but two others already have.

Feynman's "Lectures" + "Tips"

If you want an expert's opinion, ask the chancellor of John Moore's University in Liverpool. He's an astrophysicist, as well as a member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club For Scientists, which counts for naught save as an indicator of a sense of humor and thus probably approachability. And he's a bit of a musician so I hear. He has a web site with a contact link: []

Read textbooks, work problems (2, Informative)

mako1138 (837520) | about 6 years ago | (#24171221)

You're going to be getting into grad-level physics books, like Goldstein (Mechanics), Jackson (Electrodynamics), and Sakurai (QM). They are not really the best places to start your physics education. As you have a math background, the math will not be so much of a problem. Rather, you lack familiarity with physics concepts. What you need is the equivalent of an undergraduate physics education. You can probably skim the Feynman Lectures for the rest of the summer and come out OK. Work through physics problems. Lots of them.

Popsci books are good too, for getting the big picture.

Basic physics crash course (1)

dronkert (820667) | about 6 years ago | (#24171253)

Goldstein/Poole/Safko - Classical Mechanics
Kittel/Kroemer - Thermal Physics
Bransden/Joachain - Physics of Atoms and Molecules
Sakurai - Modern Quantum Mechanics

Have a good summer!

QM for mathematicians (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171257)

You might find "Quantum Mechanics for Mathematicians" useful. It's quite sophisticated, but if you've got a solid grasp of partial differential equations, you should be okay. Link:

I second the recommendation of Feynman's Lectures. They're a good overview, although I think you'll find that they're not sufficient to get you to a point where you can solve problems.

MIT's OpenCourseWare has many physics courses online, most including sample tests and exams. This will be useful to practice your skills.

Galactic Astronomy (1)

linzeal (197905) | about 6 years ago | (#24171279)

Learning about the basic theories on how galaxies form is going to be underlying a lot of your work if you would like to more than dabble in cosmology. I found this book [] rather useful.

General intro to physics books (4, Informative)

16384 (21672) | about 6 years ago | (#24171293)

The suggestions from other posters about science books for the general public won't help you much. You need to learn the basic physics, such as mechanics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism. Thankfully there are good books that teach all of these areas at a basic level, and you'll be able to go through them quickly.

Although in a different way, I also changed from math to physics. One thing you should know is that physicists use math as a tool, and don't worry about convergences, approximations, etc. Prepare to be shocked with all the approximations made: Physicists keep expanding stuff in Taylor series and keeping only 1 or 2 terms, without worrying about what they left out, treat differentials basically as numbers, use distribution functions intuitively, without a proper theoretical support, say a differential equation is "solved" when they find one solution that matches what they need, etc.

I would recommend the introductory physics books by Paul A. Tipler, because they cover the whole physics you need to get up to speed, and are simple.

Another similar book is "Fundamentals of Physics" by Halliday and Resnick.

These two books / books series are simple, written for the beggining physics undergrad. I think they are what you need. However, if you are very good at math, and want grad student level physics books, the series "Course of Theoretical Physics" by Landau and Lifshitz is suberb. They are very advanced though.

After you master the books at the level of Tipler and/or Halliday and Resnick, you should move on to individual books about the various areas, such as mechanics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics.

"The Feynman lectures on physics" are a classic, and almost required reading for wanting to be a physicist, however they won't teach you much actual day to day physics. It was written to be a physics course, but to me it is more of an inspirational book than a manual, so you can always read these latter.

Start and end with Landau (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171301)

Any self-respecting graduate student should read all of Landau and Lifshitz. There are no errors and the scope is complete. Of course the level far exceeds that of Feynman, but that is because of the audience these books are intended for. Please do not overlook this series.

Good Luck in your studies!

Landau & Lifshitz (2, Informative)

RedOctober (10155) | about 6 years ago | (#24171341)

I wanted to recommend Feynman's lectures also, but it seems many others have done so already. Also Penrose's "Road to Reality", already mentioned.

What people haven't mentioned are Landau & Lifshitz's series of books, "Course on Theoretical Physics". This is stuff to read AFTER you have got through Feynman, and find his lectures too elementary. Landau is more demanding, but it will be a LONG while before you can finish reading his works.

Re:Landau & Lifshitz (2, Informative)

bierik (575138) | about 6 years ago | (#24171377)

The Landau & Lifshitz books are quite advanced but absolutely worth reading (well, "reading" is not the correct term to use here; it is very demanding and will take you a lot of time). I've never really been too fond of Feynman's lectures, but the again I'm more of a "lots of equations and exercises" guy.

Another book worth mentioning is Sakurai's "Modern Quantum Mechanics".

a good maths text book (1)

howlingmadhowie (943150) | about 6 years ago | (#24171367)

one thing i find when talking to mathematicians is that they often have little knowledge of maths for physicists, though they can acquire this knowledge very quickly. for this reason, i'd recommend you have a look at something like "mathematical methods in the physical sciences" by Mary L. Boas. she also covers a great deal of physics from a mathematical perspective.

Re:a good maths text book (1)

habig (12787) | about 6 years ago | (#24171573)

Mathmatical Methods for Physicists [] by Arfken. If it's not in here, you won't be using it in a physics class till you get into some really hard core theory.

The Amazon links to a newer version than I have, but presumably it's the same beast.

obligatory xkcd comic (3, Funny)

frenchbedroom (936100) | about 6 years ago | (#24171369)

There's one for every Slashdot discussion ! []

Avoid general "all of physics"-style books (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171421)

I don't know about the field of astrophysics, but my experience from 4 years of studying physics is clearly to avoid "all in one"-style intro books. They may give you a smoother introduction, and they may keep a persistent style introducing you to many fields, but the quality just isn't the same as specialized books.

Other than that, the best advice is certainly: Talk to professors and other students. The problem is of course that a lot of the decision is about taste, but once you've had a few recommendations, you'll find out what you like, and know what style to go for next time.

Landau & Lifshitz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171425)

I can fully recommend the 10 books of Landau & Lifshitz.

Feynman's are great, but not very mathematical and deep. They are more like a introduction for experimental physics. (So maybe just the right for you)

So I'd buy all three Feynman books and then depending on the topic choose one Landau & Lifshitz. Depending on the topic there I can also recommend other books, for example Jackson with classical electrodynamics.

For deep theoretical understanding you won't get far with Feynman's books.

A Road to Reality, by Penrose (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171437)

To get a broad, overview of higher math and its role in physics, as well as to understand major themes of theoretical physics, I would suggest "A Road to Reality" by Sir. Roger Penrose.

It's meant to be a recreational physics book, but doesn't pull any punches when it comes to math in physics. Your math background should be sufficient to know what he is generally talking about when he omits details.

It's a great, thick book!

Recommendations from a Physicist (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171449)

I've got a degree in physics, and the two most important physics books there are, baring quantum mechanics, are:

Classical Mechanics - Goldstein
Classical Electrodynamics - Jackson

If you want something a little easier, I would recommend their 'little brothers' of sorts:

An Introduction To Mechanics - Kleppner and Kolenkow
Electricity and Magnetism - Purcell

It's all maths anyway... (1, Interesting)

Bazman (4849) | about 6 years ago | (#24171497)

I did a BSc in Physics with Astrophysics, and the astro classes were more maths than even my friends who were doing maths had in their mathiest maths classes.

For our stellar structure course the lecturer used every letter of the alphabet in his equations. Upper and lower case. Latin and Greek. He may even have sneaked in an aleph when we weren't looking (which was often). We used to test ourselves by someone picking a random letter, say 'p' and someone else going 'partial gas pressure!' or whatever it was.

Okay, I suppose the equations were all based on physical properties of fusion plasmas, but with a maths degree you shouldn't have any trouble with the numbers.

Good to see people calling it 'maths' and not 'math' in this thread - I don't think the USA has woken up yet :)

Math vs Maths (1)

thermian (1267986) | about 6 years ago | (#24171667)

Actually, as an English clever person with a doctorate and everything (I has a smarts, I do), I've found myself using just 'Math' recently as it seems to make more sense. Certainly in tutorial material.

It just sounds better really, not least because the word it's shortened form of isn't 'Mathsematics'. I may be committing an Englishness sin by doing this, but since I never studied Mathematics as a single subject, I may be able to plead insanity.

Re:It's all maths anyway... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171671)


using every letter of three alphabets is a sign that you are NOT doing math.

Re:It's all maths anyway... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171709)

replying to my own post.

The grandparent post really got me riled up. As a mathematicians, I hate it when people (especially physicists, engineers and computer scientists) think of math as a bunch of numbers, equations, ODE, PDE, matrices, .

Math is not a bunch of anything. It's this wonderful thing of simultaneous abstraction and specification used to describe symmetry and pattern.

Hilbert summarized it best:

The art of doing mathematics consists in finding that special case which contains all the germs of generality.

One of the best (3, Informative)

Doofus (43075) | about 6 years ago | (#24171529)

One of the best, and most consistently relied upon, physics texts is Fundamentals of Physics [] , by Halliday and Resnick. The link leads to the 2007 edition - prior editions are still available for lower cost.

I used this book in high school, and then had the opportunity to use it again during several courses in college. The text is now in its 8th edition, and has been regularly updated and improved. Depending on where most of your colleagues went to school, its likely some or many have been exposed to H&R.

H&R does not spoon-feed; some of the exercises are difficult. Working through the text is assuredly not going to be a random walk in the park.

A number of the other comment threads discuss Feynman's lectures, which are also excellent.

IAAA - Feynman Lectures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171543)

Having graduated in astrophysics - i'll recommend the Feynman Lectures. They don't treat astrophysics specificly - but they'll get you into the physicists way of thinking.

jump right into the upper level books (1)

disputationist (1324927) | about 6 years ago | (#24171549)

Do NOT use the Feynman lectures as a starting point. They are fun to read and will give you a lot of insight if you already know what he is talking about, but I don't know anyone who learned intro physics for the first time from them. I tried it myself in the 11th/12th grade, and didn't get very far. I would suggest you try books that are somewhere between upper level undergrad and beginning grad level. The main obstacle undergrads face while reading this books is not having the requisite math background; but this should not be a problem for you. So for class mech, use Goldstein. For QM, Sakurai's Modern QM. For EM, use Griffiths, I don't think you should jump into Jackson just yet. For thermo, Schroeder. Supplement all of these with Boas' Mathematical Methods, if there is any math you need to review or learn. After you've skimmed through Goldstein, you might also wanna try Hartle's Gravity, this will probably be the most useful for astrophysics.

Re:jump right into the upper level books (2, Interesting)

habig (12787) | about 6 years ago | (#24171599)

Wish I had mod points here. Goldstein, Sakurai, and Griffiths are the books the questioner missed while taking a math degree instead of a physics degree. Throw in Carrol & Ostlie for the astrophysics side of things, and he's covered.

However, I disagree about the "skimming" part. The only way any of these things will be useful is if you actually work through some of the problems. Do a few random problems from each chapter and they'll make a whole heck of a lot more sense.

Re:jump right into the upper level books (1)

disputationist (1324927) | about 6 years ago | (#24171627)

I only meant that he will be ready for Hartle if he has a general idea of field mechanics, and he doesn't have to put off reading it until he is thoroughly done with Goldstein, which will take quite a while.

Mathematical Methods for Physicists by Arfken (1)

helixcode123 (514493) | about 6 years ago | (#24171579)

I used this text for a physics class of the same name during my undergraduate studies in geophysics. I think it would be an excellent bridge, since you're coming from a mathematics background. Some of the criticisms of the book (not being complete, mathematically, in its treatments) wouldn't be relevant.

Suggestions from a Physics Prof (2, Informative)

TheTiff (1324917) | about 6 years ago | (#24171591)

Having gone through a physics undergrad, an astrophysics-slanted grad and currently teaching undergrad physics, I am always on the lookout for good texts. Here are my suggestions...

Firstly, if you have never taken undergrad physics or are looking for a reference, you will want a good intro text. Feynman is good for conceptual understanding but is a bit short on worked examples and problems for you to try. There are several good intro texts out there, my personal favorite is Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Serway & Jewett. Used copies of older editions are the way to go price-wise.

As for advanced undergrad texts, here are my suggestions.
Introduction to Electrodynamics by Griffiths (a real standard)
An introduction to Thermal Physics by Schroeder (has astrophysics examples)
Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Shankar
Classical Dynamics of Particles & Systems by Marion & Thornton (Classical Mechanics)
Gravity: An introduction to Einstein's General Relativity by Hartle

Re:Suggestions from a Physics Prof (1)

disputationist (1324927) | about 6 years ago | (#24171659)

Marion and Thornton sucks monkey balls. Stay away.

from a physics PhD (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171611)

You should have totally mastered:

classical: Landau vol. I (amazingly beautiful and concise)
E&M: Griffiths
quantum: Griffiths
stat mech: Reif

And have moved on to learning:
E&M: Jackson
quantum: Sakurai supplemented with Schiff
stat mech: Landau vol. V (check the footnote on Jacobian methods).

Work lots of problems!

Lots to read! (1)

penguin phil (880033) | about 6 years ago | (#24171639)

A lot of people seem to be recommending the Feynmann lectures, but I'd recommend that you use those to supplement other reading rather than as your main text.

If you want to get up to speed quickly, try University Physics by Young and Freedman. It's a well written general physics textbook, contains plenty of exercises and diagrams (important!) and should get you up to a basic 2nd-year (UK) physics undergrad level.

After that, look towards the Manchester physics series. Electromagnetism (Grant and Phillips), Statistical Physics (Mandl) and Optics (Smith and Thomson) are all pretty good, and cover the bulk of classical physics. (University Physics covers dynamics well enough by itself.)

For quantum mechanics, I found the early chapters of Molecular Quantum Mechanics (Atkins) instructive. There are a few good relativity textbooks out there, but I can't remember the names of any...

For astrophysics textbooks, Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics (Zeilik and Gregory) covers the basics. For high energy astrophysics, Longair is the most comprehensive textbook I've found. For galactic astrophysics I read Combes et al., which I found quite average.

Good luck!

Best Textbooks (5, Informative)

E3nder (908983) | about 6 years ago | (#24171647)

I think the important thing to realize in your situation is that whatever you _need_ to know to do your masters your classes and your professor will point you to the right books. As such, what you really need to do is go back and fill all the wholes that were left from a non-physics undergraduate degree. Most of these textbooks that I will list are the standard for MIT, and Harvard and the like. So let's begin.
Classical Mechanics:
Kleppner and Kolenkow []
If you have time: Goldstein []

Electricity and Magnetism:
This one is a little tricky, I'll give you the 1st undergrad, the Junior level undergrad and then the two Grad texts. You can probably just read the Junior level text.
Purcell []
Griffiths []
Jackson [] and Schwinger []

Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics:
There are really no agreed upon texts here (sorry), I used Baierlein [] at MIT but that seems to switch every year.
Same goes for graduate texts, BUT the MIT profesor who has been teaching grad stat mech just put out his own books which I hear are quite good. We'll call them Kardar 1 [] and Karadar 2 []

Quantum Physics:
What you really need is an introduction to two fundamental ideas, the wave-function formalism and the linear-algebra formalism.
Wave-function: French and Taylor []
Linear Algebra: Griffiths [] - Best Book in this list in my opinion.

Special Relativity and General Relativity:
Special: French []
General: Carroll []

That should fill in everything that you missed. What we are skipping is every other specialty in physics, but, it seems like you've already chosen one, so no big loss.

Astronomy and theoretical physics (3, Informative)

golodh (893453) | about 6 years ago | (#24171693)

From your post I gather that you will primarily use self-study. As regards reading material I suggest you have a look here: [] Prof. 't Hooft is a Nobel-prize winner in physics and he has put together a page with "open source" reading material on physics which he recommends to anyone with aspirations of becoming a theoretical physicist.

As an aspiring astronomer your profile will strongly resemble that of a theoretical physicist. And you'll certainly need to know about just about everything he lists on that page: from classical mechanics, optics, special and general relativity, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, plasma physics, plain old electromagnetism, to electronics. 't Hooft lists freely downloadable high-quality reading material on just about every topic!

And although you didn't ask, don't forget the computational side of things! Most astronomers I know are heavy computer users and very good programmers.

So make sure you know about Fortran and the libraries that are written in it (e.g. have a look at [] and acquaint yourself with Lapack, Sparsepack, fftpack, cephes etc). Many of those routines can also be found in Matlab, Octave, Scilab, etc., but if you need full control and a standalone executable on a big supermini you might have to go back to Fortran and C++), And make sure (well ... I hardly need tell a mathematics undergraduate but I can't omit it) that you know about Maple and/or Mathematica.

But ... if I may be so bold ... whilst reading and self-study are an indispensable element of learning physics they are rarely sufficient. You'll also need to learn a special way of thinking that sometimes comes hard to people with a background in mathematics. Which is to know when and where to cut corners and use approximations, and sometimes even go beyond the mathematics you know.

Think of Paul Dirac (of the Dirac Delta function). His "function" isn't a function at all, it's a distribution, and trying to think of it as a function will lead you to contradictions. But Dirac set up a formalism using it (and got the properties right !) without knowing about distributions (they were invented later partly to put what he had done on a firm mathematical basis). He simply let mathematical firmness go hang at the appropriate moment. Now I'm not comparing you to Dirac (and I'm certainly not encouraging you to take liberties with mathematics), but Dirac was a physicist first and a mathematician second. That's what I mean. Someone suggested the Feynman Lectures ... they're great (if sometimes a tough read) exactly because Feynman makes this very point.

You see ... in Physics, the physics comes first and the mathematics second; meaning that in thinking about physics problems you'll have to think in terms of physics (of course greatly helped by the mathematical formalisms in which physical laws are couched) but if you'll need to be able to think through a physical line argument without necessarily working through all the maths. Physicists do this as a second nature, and you'll need to learn how.

Ask Slashdot? Why not ask..... (2, Insightful)

Cinnamon Whirl (979637) | about 6 years ago | (#24171771)

Your Professor?

A quick check on your universities web site should also furnish a list of your prof's group, (Phds and post-docs). Track them down. What you don't really need at this stage is a full physics degree. That is why they chose a mathematician, right? So find out the specifics of your project, and read around that.
Also, it shows the people who count that you're interested.....

Good intro to QM (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24171789)

Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, 2nd Ed. [] is good clear guide to first and second year material.

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