Book Reviews: Textbooks

Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics (1st) by Frederick Reif (9-2006)

A lot of people complain about how wordy and slow this book is. I agree with that - I do think it takes forever to read, and that makes it pretty boring. However, I think it does a pretty good job of clearly explaining the concepts of thermodynamics, much better than Kittel and Kroemer for example. I would definitely advise readers to skip the last two chapters since they are quite technical and not very relevant to the rest of the book. I wish they had been omitted actually. Also, I have heard that there are some fallacies where Reif glosses over things. But overall this is the best introductory book that I have read.

Introduction to Error Analysis (1st) by John Taylor (6-25-06)

This was definitely an easy book to follow because it took a very gentle approach to the subject. I think it is probably a better idea to learn probability and statistics from a math course instead of a physics course, but there are some contributions that physics makes. The most important thing that I found in this book was the derivation of the general error propagation formuls, which is hard to find. The only problem is that it gives the impression that it has to be a normal distribution even though it doesn't.

Introduction to Elementary Particles (1st) by David Griffiths

This is a slightly outdated introduction to elementary particles, but the only things that stood out a lot were that it thought neutrinos were massless and the top quark hadn't been discovered. It seemed like a reasonably good introduction to the concepts and mathematics of particle physics, complete with Griffiths' casual tone. I really enjoyed the first couple chapters, but the book got increasing more abstract and mathematical until I found myself staring at incredibly complicated formulas that meant nothing to me. So I would say that the majority of the book is about getting used to the abstract formulation. This isn't my favorite aspect of physics, but it probably is a necessary step if you want to learn the subject of particle physics.

Computer Algebra and Symbolic Computation by Joel Cohen

I enjoyed reading this book. I think that the main benefit of it is that it made me feel a little more confident about programming a CAS even though I didn't learn too much specific information. It is nice that it is not as dense as other books on the topic, making it more readable for an undergraduate. There was some good discussion of automatic simplification and simplification contexts, simple integration, sets and lists, pattern matching, and layered recursion to avoid redundant evalutation.

Number Theory for Computing by Song Yan

An excellent book about the applications of elementary number theory. The book is split into three chapters. The first chapter is an overview of elementary number theory that is light on proofs, and probably not suitable as an introduction, but a good review plus a description of elliptic curves. The second chapter describes computational algorithms in number theory for checking primality, factoring, and finding discrete logarithms (modular indices). Some of these were particularly interesting, such as the Fermat Pseudoprimality Test and some miscellaneous algoritms including one to find an odd perfect number. The third chapter explains the actual applications, which is basically a review of cryptography plus some ideas about computer arithmetic. Although the explanations are sometimes too short, there is a wealth of information to be found in this chapter. The concepts of residue computers, secret key cryptography, elliptic curve cryptography, digital signatures, secret sharing and quantum cryptography were all very interesting. Notes

Vade Mecum by R. A. Finkel

In this Operating Systems tutorial, a "walk with me" approach is taken, or so states the title. Despite the fact that it was written in the 1980's, I found it to be quite usefull since it stressed the concepts moreso than the applications. The content was very much similar to that of a course I took called 'Computer Organization', except the book was looking at the problems from the viewpoint of software, unlike the class, which was coming from the hardware side. Although it did not give me all the answers I was looking for about operating systems, I did feel that this was a good book for acquainting oneself with the field.

Accelerated C++ by Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo

This introduction to the C++ language gets a user introduced quickly without dealing with the underlying structure. I personally don't use C++ very often since C feels better to me even though I basically started with C++. Because of this, I wasn't too interested in this book. Much of the book is code and explanation of example programs that are all very similar and gradually build up as new concepts are introduced. This simplicity may be helpful to beginners, but I imagine that a beginner would feel restricted by them.

Complex Numbers and Geometry by Liang-shin Hahn

I found this book to be very dull. I would describe it as a reformulation of geometrical theorems using complex numbers heavily. I am sure that in some cases these proofs are simpler than the conventional proofs. However, they did not seem very elegant and only a select few seemed interesting. The introduction it gives to complex numbers is of the rigorous construction sort, which is good to have, but doesn't lead to much enlightenment. The best part I found was the proofs about triangles in the appendix. There were nice proofs of the concurrency of the perpendicular bisectors and the angle bisectors, and a proof of Ceva's Theorem. In general, I would not recommend this book unless you are looking for a different perspective on a specific geometrical proof.

Introduction to Electrodynamics (3rd) by David Griffiths

This is one of my favorite physics books because it made electromagnetism become clear to me. Actually I think that the second half of the book, after the interlude, is much harder to follow. This is probably partially because it contains more difficult material, but I also think that Griffiths gets buried in the math sometimes and forgets to take the requisite time to explain what is going on. But what's great about this book is that it is on the perfect level for initially learning E&M. Before this level, things don't fit together so well because you are shielded from the essential derivations. After this level, you are just solving more difficult problems. So this is probably the best book to learn E&M from and Griffiths just has a great tone. Warning: Some of the problems are really hard.

Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (2nd) by David Griffiths

I think this book may actually be better than Griffiths' Electrodynamics book. The exposition is clear from front to back. This book totally beats Liboff and Eisberg and Resnick. I feel like I gained a much better understanding of quantum mechanics from reading this book and as always Griffiths has a great tone. Warning: Some of the problems are really hard.

Calculus (3rd) by Michael Spivak

If one person can beat Griffiths for pulling off a great tone without losing professionalism it's Spivak. This is a wonderful introduction to proof-based calculus. Everybody who studies math or science should definitely learn this stuff. I really enjoyed reading this book, in a way that was uncommon for textbooks. Reading this book and doing the problems was almost like an adventure.

Calculus Volume II (2nd) by Tom Apostol

This volume covers linear algebra and multi-dimensional calculus. Apostol writes with a very strict tone, but it is not too hard to read. The writing in this book is quite clear and it covers a great deal of material.

Modern Quantum Mechanics (1st-Revised) by Jun Sakurai

Sakurai does a really good job of explaining the new concepts in graduate level Quantum Mechanics. Some parts get too dense and seem quite unclear (I didn't like Chapters 5 and 7 too much), but then again, some confusion is going to be unavoidable in a subject like this.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics Volume II by Feynman, Leighton, and Sands

This is an interesting book because it is hard to say what level it is at. At first it seems like a basic freshman introductory course, but then he flies through some advanced topics way before you would normally expect them. I don't know if this would actually work for most students, but one thing is for sure: the book is littered with beautiful gems of explanations and enlightening facts, the type of stuff you can't find anywhere else. It's not as if it is a non-stop stream, but there are plenty to keep you anxious for the next one to come. I'm not sure when the best time to read this is, probably after reading Griffith's book would be a good time.


Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems (5th) by Marion and Thornton

I liked this book, but I don't remember much of what I read. I think it is reasonably clear, but reading the book didn't seem to provide a complete understanding of the material. This probably is one of the best undergraduate level texts on the subject though.

Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier

I really like this introduction to cryptographic protocols and algorithms. It is written in a slightly lighter tone while still being very thorough and professional. I was totally fascinated by the secret sharing and digital cash protocols. The book would probably be a valuable reference to anyone working with cryptography. (Read through Chapter 9)

Introduction to Geometry by H.S.M. Coxeter

This is one of the more popular books about geometry, and for good reason. It has a huge diversity of subject matter. Most of it is on a high level and the end of the book becomes confusing. However, because of the fact that it covers so much, there is a wealth of knowledge to pick up relating to the formalization of geometry and various core concepts. This book is a good one to have to read parts of when you are interested in them, to fully understand the contents would take a significant amount of time. (Read about 2/3)

Art of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill

This book takes a fairly casual tone, although the depth of content makes it somewhat of a formidable read. The first chapter is a must read for pretty much anyone, whereas the subsequent chapters may only be interesting to the electrical engineer. I came away from this book feeling as if I still have so much to learn about electronics that the small contribution to my knowledge of electronics that this book made was insignificant. However, realistically I know that I have a better feel for what electronics design entails, and I picked up a few very important pieces of information. (Read up to microprocessor part)

Difference Equations (2nd) by Kelly and Peterson

The subject of discrete calculus that is explained in this book is often ignored, but it is quite useful for some mathematical problems. One of the biggest uses is finding closed form expressions for summations. It treats these like integrals and all the machinery of calculus carries over with some modification. Summations and the other applications of discrete calculus don't come up as often as applications of real calculus, and when they do come up, people are often content to just cite a result rather than derive it because the derivation doesn't shed any light on the problem. That is why this subject is not so popular, but I found it worth studying. I read and did all the problems for the first two chapters and I thought it was beneficial.

Thermal Physics (2nd) by Kittel and Kroemer

First of all I have to say that the problems in this book are really hard. This is probably in large part due to the fact that the book doesn't have enough good examples to make it clear how the problems should be done, or even what they are talking about for that matter. So in general I would say that I don't like this book too much. Plus I think that Thermodynamics is probably better treated on the graduate level.

Quantum Physics (2nd) by Eisberg and Resnick

This book seems to have a lot of words, but not a lot of educational value. I think there are some useful conceptual discussions, but this doesn't seem like a normal quantum book. It doesn't really address the same issues as a book like Griffiths'. There is a pretty good historical introduction in the first few chapters. However, I wouldn't recommend this book for a course.

Algebra: Pure and Applied (1st) by Aigli Papantonopoulou

This is probably the driest book I've ever seen. There is no discussion! Just Theorem, Proof, Therom, Proof. Some people like that, but it is really slow reading and I can't always handle that level of intensity. What's important is that the problems are good because that is where you will actually do the learning in this subject.

Introductory Quantum Mechanics (4th) by Richard Liboff

I've only read the first part of this book, but so far it is easy to follow. However, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast. It feels like it is missing a lot of explanations.

Geometry (1st) by Brannan, Esplen, and Gray

People haven't been studying geometry as much lately. This book isn't exactly like Euclid's Elements; there aren't really any proofs from Euclid's axioms. In fact, most of the book is about non-Euclidean geometry. So you could say that this subject is more abstract than it used to be and also less useful for applications. However, I enjoyed learning about this topic and I liked the proofs in the book.

Classical Electrodynamics (3rd) by John Jackson

This is one of the slowest books to read. It is just incredibly dense. Derivations often skip many steps or use an obscure theorem without exaplanation. And often the understanding of a topic relies on a crucial point found only in one sentence, even though it merits a whole page. It is very hard to learn from this book, the best thing to do is try to do problems and read each section as it becomes useful for a problem. However, the problems in this book are ridiculously hard and I believe that they require much more effort than would be needed to learn the material. Though in reality the issue is probably more that there needs to be a better way to learn to solve problems and then they wouldn't be so hard. Let me just emphasize that this book doesn't teach electromagnetism hardly at all, it teaches mathematical physics using electromagnetism as a backdrop.

Quantum Mechanics (1st) by Ernest Abers

This book covers a lot of material quickly, but at the same time that makes it hard to learn from. After reading from it, I feel that what I read makes sense, but I don't have a better understanding of the underlaying concepts. I think a lot of basic explanations are missing.

Linear Algebra (3rd) by Friedberg, Insel, and Spence

It is really hard to describe the problem with this book. It covers the important topics, and it is plenty rigorous (as are almost all math books), but it doesn't feel as deep as Apostol's book. This book does have some interesting points that aren't found in Apostol's book, but not too many and they aren't immediately relevant to the mathematical theory.

Applied Partial Differential Equations (4th) by Richard Haberman

This is really not my type of math book, leave this one for the engineers to wrestle with. I used it for a Fourier Analysis course, but the explanations avoid all the things that you care the learn about and you are left doing a bunch of boundary value problems without understanding the real math behind it. Some of the problems are unclear and too difficult.

Fundamentals of Complex Analysis (3rd) by Saff and Snider

Even though this is an applied math book, I actually liked it. The reason is that it is written on such a low level that it is very easy to follow. The focus is on how to solve the basic problems in complex analysis like using the residue theorem. The problems are actually fairly easy, so I think this is one of the few books where you could reasonably do a self-study. I would probably suggest taking another more proof-based course in complex analysis after this one.

An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics (1st) by Carroll and Ostlie

This is one huge book. It has pretty solid coverage of astronomy and astrophysics. The course that I took with this book focused on the stellar astrophysics sections. I think stellar astrophysics is pretty cool, but not as compelling as fundamental physics. It requires a lot of modelling and computational work. The explanations in this book are fairly good and the problems are mostly pretty straightforward. The only concern is that one may get bored in some parts.

Don't want to finish

Operator Methods in Quantum Mechanics by Martin Schechter (11-27-05)

I was looking for a quantum mechanics book that developed the subject the way a mathematician would. After searching in the library for a while I found this book which is actually written by a Mathematician. The entire book develops the quantum theory of a single particle in 1 dimension, and it is very rigorous. I thought this was exactly what I was looking for, however I was wrong. I only read the first two chapters, but I realized that it was far too dense and abstract to learn quantum mechanics from. I was reading theorem after theorem that I couldn't connect to my pre-existing knowledge, so I felt like I was learning an entirely new subject. So even though I could not come close to finishing the book, I decided to post it because it is the most mathematical book on quantum mechanics that I have ever seen and it might be useful for someone who wants to know every aspect of quantum mechanics.

Semiconductor Devices and Applications by R.A. Greiner

Although this book is intended for electrical engineers, it does provide a good explanation of the physics of conduction and semiconductor devices in the first half. I read most of the first half, up until it got too difficult to follow. There was a lot of significant information regarding the mechanism of conduction that is well described by formulas, and reasonably described conceptually. Notes

Computer Organization and Design by David A. Patterson and John L. Hennessy