Jacob Nie

My Textbook Recommendations

My recommendations are in bold. TOC:
  • Introductory (Calculus based)
  • Freshman Mechanics
  • Freshman E&M
  • Mathematics
  • Junior Quantum Mechanics
  • Junior Statistical Mechanics

Introductory (Calculus based)

Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Krane
Prereq: high school calculus.
The most frequently recommended for high school olympiad preparation, and definitely the best!

University Physics by Young and Freedman
Prereq: high school calculus.
Not as difficult as HRK. But this was actually my first textbook, and it is still quite good. Served me well at least.

Freshman Mechanics

An Introduction to Mechanics by Kleppner and Kolenkow
Prereq: high school calculus and high school mechanics.
To be honest, I haven't actually read this book. However, my homework problems for my freshman physics class come from this book, and the problems are all very instructive and at a very good level. It's the standard, and deservedly so.

Introduction to Classical Mechanics by Morin
Prereq: high school calculus and a book at the level of HRK.
Apparently, this is the book used at Harvard. The problems are really really challenging, but the novelty of the problems also detracts from the value of this book as a textbook. A lot of problems are very "tricky", so they're not very instructive. However, they can be really good for developing problem solving skills, I guess. The text itself is too advanced and not comprehensive enough for a freshman treatment, and too easy for a junior treament of classical mechanics. However, the relativity chapters were quite good. (Also, I got this book for free which was great.)

Freshman E&M

Introduction to Electricity and Magnetism by Purcell and Morin
Prereq: vector calculus and high school level electromagnetism.
This book is really well known for its introduction to magnetism as a relativistic consequence of electricity. A lot of people like this book, but I didn't. I also didn't spend much time on this. (Also got it for free.) The trouble with this book is that it overlaps almost 75% with Griffith's book, but the 25% is important enough that you have to read Griffith's book again. That is why I would recommend getting a more solid foundation in the basics with something like HRK and then just skipping this book. I'm probably in the minority here though.


Div, Grad, Curl, and all that by Schey
Prereq: high school calculus.
Really fantastic introductory book for vector calculus. A short 1-month read at the most, and the problems are good. Not too rigorous - perfect for a physics student. However, it should be noted that this is still just an introductory book, and following this up with Griffith's vector calculus review in his E&M book would be perfect.

Introduction to Linear Algebra by Strang
Prereq: none
Written horribly in terms of style and presentation, but it's still good, and it's what I used. These read more like lecture notes than a textbook, but the problems are good. Actually, just trying to figure out the organizational structure of each section is a great exercise in itself.

Differential Equations and Boundary Problems by Edwards and Penney
Prereq: calculus
Not really a big fan, but I probably just hate differential equations. It works.

Linear Algebra Done Right by Axler
Prereq: freshman level linear algebra
A great second linear algebra book. I read this after studying quantum mechanics to fill in some gaps, and I really enjoyed the clarity of the presentation. It is very concise, but organized very masterfully. The problems are very instructive too. (But do not try using this as a first linear algebra book... that would be a waste of time. Too abstract as a meaningful first pass.)

Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering by Riley, Hobson, and Bence
This book is not suitable for self studying. The presentation is so disjointed (which is necessary to keep the page count below 1500 probably) that I can't see anybody understanding the material as a first pass. Probably wouldn't be so bad with a teacher, but not everybody has that.

Mathematical Methods for Physicists by Arfken and Weber
I'm using this book to learn complex analysis, and I think it's really good (this one chapter at least). It's concise but also logically coherent, which is something I don't think I could say about Riley.

Junior Quantum Mechanics

Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Shankar
Prereq: deep proficiency in freshman level linear algebra or just junior level linear algebra, a general familiarity with Lagrangian+Hamiltonian formalism, freshman level electromagnetism, ... Really math intensive. This was my first quantum book, and it took me about 6-7 months of pretty much daily working to go cover to cover. First 15 chapters - really thorough and sets a great foundation. Exercises are sparse, so I did pretty much each one. Reading this as a first treatment of quantum mechanics makes things really difficult in certain sections: the math gets thick and you don't even know what's going to be at the end of it. In these situations, I think it's better to read Griffiths first and then read Shankar again. Otherwise, this is one of my favorite physics textbooks.

Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by Griffiths
Prereq: IDK I haven't really read this book. It was helpful when Shankar was unclear, though. From what I gathered, this book is a lot more structured and organized. In this book, you know what's really important because Griffiths puts it in a gray box. (Whereas Shankar does not even label important results.) However, Griffiths is a lot less mathematically rigorous. A lot of results are just stated. In many ways this is a good thing - you can get a survey of the landscape before learning the derivations. There are also a lot more problems, though I heard many are somewhat mindless? There is one place that this book really suffers compared to Shankar, and that is the late introduction of the mathematical formalism. Shankar lays out all the math in the first chapter, whereas Griffiths gets through two chapters before touching the linear algebra. I think this might make a big difference: in Shankar, the linear algebraic formalism is hammered into the brain since day 1.

Junior Statistical Mechanics

Thermal Physics by Schroeder
Prereq: IDK
Not a difficult book by any means, but it was really really clear when I used it. The problems (though I did not try them) also looked really great. A lot better than Kittel in introducing thermodynamics, and also a lot clearer in applications of quantum statistics.

Thermal Physics by Kittel
Prereq: first semester quantum mechanics
The precursor to his book with Kroemer, this was my first book. I don't think anybody even uses this anymore, so whatever. It's not so bad, but a lot of sections lacked clarity. I finally parted ways with Kittel about 2/3-rds of the way in. This book is quite good as an introduction to the quantum side of statistical mechanics, but not great for learning classical thermodynamics. Since I read this book first, I had a great foundation in partition functions, Boltzmann/Gibbs factors, etc, but it left me with a really bad foundation in stuff like Maxwell relations (the classical stuff).

No comments about books for junior-level mechanics and electromagnetism, because Taylor and Griffiths are the standards.