Customer Reviews: Classical Electrodynamics Third Edition
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VINE VOICEon June 28, 2003
(...but I wish I could!!!)
The title of my review just about sums my opinion on this "classic" grad electrodynamics text. The book kind of [stinks] as a textbook, but there is nothing even remotely close to it in scope out there.
So like a previous reviewer said: "Jackson's here to stay; GET USED TO IT!!"
...P>For those who still want my opinion on the specifics of this book (I promise, they won't help you-- you still have to get through Jackson!) I offer the following brief comments, some of which you may have heard before, some which may be new:
(1) The problems are hard. Damn hard. Someone else already said that, and I agree. What I WILL add, however, is that some of the problems are also simply STUPID and a waste of time, offering or enhancing physical understanding very little if at all. (Don't get me wrong-- there are some problems which, while hard, are also pretty darn cool. Unfortunately, there are too many of the other kind, too.) The type of problems I am talking about are of the following ilk: "Prove the following six-term vector identity;" "Re-derive equation #72 for a transverse magnetic field'" "Prove equation #27." Quite simply: WHO CARES!?!
(2) While the volume is pretty encyclopedic, it is often hard to follow. Jackson often simply states things in the text without explaining where they come from, how they are derived, or why they are important,--- for example, as I read the text, I began to hate the two words "we see," which are used is cases like (paraphrasing now) "Therefore, we see the following relationship holds"---when it was not at all clear to me where the heck this relationship was coming from! I often felt stupid because, in fact, I often did NOT "see" at all!!! In those cases, I began to just say to myself "well, if Jackson says so," and then moved on. Whether I am stupid or not is open for debate, surely, but nevertheless I would have liked a little more pedagogical assistance--- which, in my mind, does not seem too unreasonable a thing to expect in a *gasp!* TEXTBOOK, of all things!! (We aren't taking about a paper in a peer-reviewed journal now, are we?? We are talking about a textbook for people who don't know, but are trying to learn, E&M.)
(3) This is a comment on the Third Edition (ie. "the Blue One") versus the Second Edition (ie. "the Red One"). In the Red One, Jackson uses Gaussian units throughout, which seemed to work well for me when I first started using the book on my own several years ago. Then, when I recently took a grad course on E&M the professor used the Blue One-- wherein Jackson switches between Gaussian and SI units, depending on which chapter you are in. He explains his rationale-- which makes sense on the surface (you really need to know both units as a working physicist)-- but in practice all this did was make learning 20 times more difficult! First you get used to the way the Gaussian system works, then suddenly all the constants and definitions change and you are in SI units in the third chapter, then you are back in Gaussian units, having to remember that certain things and definitions change and certain stay the same, all the while trying to incorporate new concepts into this body of knowledge, then you're back in SI and so on. It is simply the biggest blunder that he could have made in expanding to the new edition. While there are new problems and so on in the Blue One, when I actually wanted to learn something I gave up on the Blue One and pulled out my handy Red One.
And finally...
(4) A (very minor) point: The actual SIZE and FEEL of the Red book itself is much better than the newer Blue One. The Red One feels sleek and self-contained and fits well in your hand and your backpack. The Blue One, on the other hand, is thicker, wider, bulkier and more unwieldy, and borders on the "Is there some way I can leave the book in school rather than dragging it home?" category. In short, the Blue One feels like a burden, while the Red One feels sleek and cool. Using the Red One makes you feel like you're doing something cool, slick and important, while using the Blue One makes you feel like you are burdened with the weight of physics (I'm sure all of us have felt both at some time or another-- but if you're gonna publish a textbook, go with the first!)
Well, I guess that's about it for now. I hope it was helpful.
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on February 6, 2002
I am currently taking the second semester of a full-year course in graduate electrodynamics. We've been using Jackson as our main textbook, but the professor sometimes use his own collection of problems as our homeworks. I've just realize why he did it, some of the problems in Jackson are extremely difficult.
However, I agree with another reviewer who stated that once you are armed with full mathematical apparatus, the book would be a gold mine of electrodynamics. My own method of study involves derivations of formulas, following the discussion in Jackson. This is really hardwork, but it worth the effort.
For those who are mathematically deficient, I suggest you to have your Arfken ready beside you (G.B. Arfken, H.J. Weber, Mathematical Methods for Physicist, 5th edition, Academic Press, ISBN 0120598256). As far as I know, this is the only book still in printing that provide almost all mathematical tools required for Jackson: Vector analysis, coordinate systems, tensor analysis, Lorentz group, partial differential equations and separations of variables, Sturm-Liouville theory, Green functions, Laplace, Helmholtz, modified Helmholtz (wave) equations, Bessel functions, Legendre functions (including the second solution and vector spherical harmonics), Fourier series and transform, and many more.
Jackson and Arfken are really pair, you can't learn Jackson without Arfken.
For those whose lack physical insights and need to brush up your undergraduate electromagnetism, I recommended one and only one textbook: D.J. Griffiths Introduction to Electrodynamics. I compared the discussion in Griffiths and Jackson, and I surprised to find that there are some indentical choices of topics like Jefimenko's equations, potentials and fields, development of Maxwell tensor, even L.V. Lorenz gauge condition ! I suspect that Jackson and Griffiths have collaborated during the writings of their third edition books.
No wonder those two books dominated Physics Departments in the world.
I'm currently waiting for Schwinger's Classical Electrodynamics, I read about good comments about it. I'll write more after I compared Jackson with Schwinger.
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on December 11, 1999
Yes, it is very mathematically demanding. Yes, some of the discussions (particularly towards the ends of chapters) are thoroughly inpenetrable. And yes, each chapter features a few problems of the type "Show that (horrendous expression)=(even worse expression)=(multi-line, triple sum of modified Bessel functions expression)." But with a serious effort you'll make it through the first 3/4 of every chapter and >half the problems; the remaining parts are usually specialized topics anyway. The hardest part of studying this text is simply the large amount of time you need to invest; it doesn't read like Griffiths' book. And what did you expect, E&M to be easy?
To those of you who truly hate this book (and judging by the reviews, there's a fair number of you), you might try the following substitutes/supplements: 1) Landau's Classical Theory of Fields: covers E&M in vacuo, with special relativity present from the beginning. Worked problems, E&M section is ~200 pages. 2) Mathews and Walker, Mathematical Methods- useful for special functions (Jackson's Chap. 3 presentation is somewhat brief). 3) Landau's Electrodynamics of Continuous Media- covers E&M in matter. I haven't used this one (yet), but people seem to love it. Again, worked problems. (Of course, find them in the library first!)
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on February 22, 2003
For the last few decades, J.D. Jackson's book has been the standard textbook for graduate-level physics courses in electricity & magnetism. I don't think this is going to change: it presents and develops useful tools and it covers the topics needed (plus more).
It's not perfect. In particular:
- It CANNOT be used for an introduction. It assumes a very good understanding of the physics of E&M, as presented in an undergraduate course.
- It is NOT intended for self-study. It was developed in the context of a lecture course, and this is what it supports.
- The theoretical treatment does leave irritating holes in some presentations.
- For some topics, the approach is not the most elegant.
- The problems are hard. The problems are damn hard.
Nonetheless, it covers an enormous amount of material in a way that can be referred to later (post-course), including mathematical tools and explicit formulas. This is quite useful, once you have suffered through it.
If you want to LEARN ABOUT E&M, you can study other books, many of which have been mentioned by other reviews. But if you really need to be GROUNDED in E&M, you will probably have to study this book: you probably won't be given a choice by your professor. This doesn't mean you can't find other sources to supplement the presentation. It's probably a good idea, anyway, not to think you're going to be able to find everything in one book.
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on May 27, 2001
This is what I wrote a year or so agao:
"What a throughly wretched text! Absolutely without clairity, the essentials of the subject buried in a muck of detail, most of which have limited jusification and application anyway. For a book called "Classical Electrodynamics", there is no coherent treatment of classical field theory at all. No illustrative examples, minimal physical motivation. The whole text seems a covoluted exercise in Green's Functions and vector calculus. It is possibly useful as a reference, but I doubt it. Try Walter Greiner's text, or on a higher level, the two texts by Landau and Liftsitz. Otherwise the sooner Jackson is gotten rid of, the better."
Nowadays I have to admit the book is quite handy as a reference, as Jackson is just so [...] thorough in his coverage of the subject -- if it has anything to do with E&M, it is probably in the book. If you are a physicist, sooner or later you are going to have look up something or other in it.
Nevertheless the original complaints remain. The book is simply wretched pedagogically. Its expositions are simply to bogged down in detail that the essantial physics is obscured. With Greiner or Landau, everything is so clearly exposited, one feels like a fool for not seeing how obvious everything is. With Jackson, one just feels like a fool -- unless you already know your E&M. The absence of examples or physical motivation is inexplicable for a textbook (though if you think the book as a reference, then it's really not so bad). And the lack of treatment of classical field theory is a grave omission in a book about the classical example of classical field theories.
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on March 4, 2002
First, a pop quiz: do you know how to expand a plane wave in spherical harmonics? Do you know how to decompose a periodic function into its harmonic components? Do you know how find Green's function for the Helmholtz operator? If you don't, then do not pick up this book, since it does a poor job of teaching the mathematical foundations of classical electrodynamics.
And now for my review:
Jackson is not a very good classroom text - it omits many steps, provides few examples and generally assumes the reader is mathematically competent enough
to fill in all of the missing steps by him/herself. It is - surprise! - not
such a good reference work either. He only mentions some topics briefly. For
example, what about Hertzian treatment of radiation? Jackson has one merit,
though - it is simply an interesting book, with material which is hard to find
in many other books. One should view it as an informative collection of essays
on EM. For example: I read in many undergraduate books how E&M can be "derived"
from Coloumbs law and special relativity. Wrong! Jackson discusses this subject
and points out where this fails. So, all-in-all, Jackson is a pretty knowledgeable
fellow who has written pretty interesting "articles" about EM and put them all
together in one book - which I refer to now and then to get his opinion on things.
That is all! Jackson's book contains many interesting tidbits and I really do
believe they make the book worth buying.
For graduates/undergradutes - please, there are so many other more instructive books out there you could be using! First of all try finding a copy of the wonderful "Problems and Solutions on Electromagnetism" edited by Lim Yung-kuo - an excellent collection of problems (although sadly out of print, I suspect). Albert Shadowitz's book "The Electromagnetic Field" has excellent, detailed and pedagogical coverage of most topics found in Jackson's book, and is also very cheap! For a book full of physical insight, check out "Principles of Electrodynamics" by Melvin Schwartz (although it isn't so comprehensive). Julian Schwinger's "Classical Electrodynamics" is an even match for Jackson and pays a LOT more attention to detail (i.e. it pulls almost no "the student can show ... " tricks).
Furthermore, a note about the mathematics - yes, it is dense, but today much of it
is simply obsolete. No one wants or needs to remember all of those properties of
Ylms and such. Computers and numerical approximations do most of the hard work.
Not only that, but Jackson uses vector calculus to discuss classical field
theories, when today we have the much more efficient tools of exterior calculus and connections available to us (which also go a long way explaining gauge theories).
In other words: Jackson is mathematically outdated! Anyone with an eye towards
theoretical physics should be aware of this. For a modern approach to field theories, check out the more mathematically mature "Classical Mathematical Physics" by Walter Thirring.
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on October 5, 2000
I recently completed an grad E&M course using this book. I must say I was intimidated at first, but as I was using it, I became more and more impressed with the utility of the information and the examples. THOROUGLY understanding the examples (especially chaps. 2 & 3) is crucial to understanding later material.
Our Prof. introduced the course as a math course disguised as a physics course. She wasn't kidding. Previous reviewers have indicated that a STRONG mathematical background is helpful to get the most out of the book. I wouldn't say that my math background is significantly strong. Actually, true to our instructor's word, I learned a great deal of math through the course.
What I did find helpful was using D.J. Griffiths' E&M text (my undergraduate text) as a supplement to reinforce my understanding of the physics involved, then I could "see" what the mathematics describes.
What this book is: It is an elegant, sophisticated presentation of one of the more difficult topics in science.
What this book is NOT: It is most definitely not a self-study guide or a means for casual learning of E&M.
The elegance is reflected through Prof. Jackson's economy of expression. The formulas presented are certainly useful for solving problems (also, the limitations and effective boundaries of the equations are clearly documented).
I must admit that I was very fortunate to have a Prof. who understood the book at many levels, was willing to "fill in the gaps" in the terse derivations, and dilligently coached us in solving the problems. This is critical as there are many hidden (but useful) "tricks" used both in the derivations and in the problem solutions. Without this kind of "coach", only a few gifted geniuses would ever be able to get the most out of this book.
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on October 7, 2002
Let me state it bluntly: you cannot get a firm grasp of EM with this book. This is not a good book to learn from. This is a book to read AFTER you THINK you know EM. Jackson treats almost every conceivable topic in this monstrous compendium. A reader who wishes to hone his/her EM skills should pick up this book and read the relevant section, then work out the problems at the end of each chapter. This is, in my opinion, the ONE AND ONLY purpose of this book. I think it achieves it rather well - the text, along with the problems, greatly increase the reader's skills, confidence and understanding. The problems are essential.
Jackson is NOT a good reference either - to understand what he's saying you have to usually read the entire chapter. What IS a reference anyhow? A book with all EM formulas in it? A book of problems with solutions? There are other books that deal with these issues much better than Jackson.
Even worse - his chapters are often interdependent, so you can't just read the chapter on radiation when you want to learn all about radiation. Nope. That's because chapter 14 deals with single particle radiation and chapter 6 introduces retarded solutions - in short, the ideas are scattered throughout the text.
So I'll say it again: this book will reward hard, linear study, and reward it greatly, but the reader is expected to show a lot of maturity - meaning assuring himself he understands everything in the text, working out the examples alone, and then doing all the problems he can. If you can't master that maturity - DON'T spend your money on it. Very simple! There are a lot of good books out there on EM that don't intend to make you a master. Try them out - my personal favorite is The EM Field by Albert Shadowitz (great undergraduate text, cheap too!). If it's problems and solutions you're looking for, try "Problems and Solutions on Electromagnetism" by Kim Lau (not sure about the author's name) for a GREAT collection of problems with solutions. But leave Jackson alone if you don't want to invest your time in it. It's way better than getting frustrated and typing angry reviews here at
A word about the problems: some are hard, some are not, but if you read the chapter carefully before approaching the problems at the end, chances are most will be doable, even if some require you to meditate upon them for several days. A few stubborn ones defy solution, but they are the exception, not the rule. Besides, it's always good to know there are problems out there to challenge you and help you advance your knowledge.
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on July 31, 2009
It is hard to add much to 98 reviews that has not been said, but I do have my own opinions so this is the place to express them. I found teaching from the book is different than being a student and trying to study the book. After a quick read through Griffith's text I could usually follow Jackson's arguments on the corresponding material and Jackson does make useful extensions - especially if you are comfortable with special functions, eigenfunction expansions and Green's functions. Even then the presentation can be frustrating since Jackson writes as if he were talking to the reader who already knows all this material and is showing him the tricks of the trade instead of developing the methods from the beginning. However when you need to find a result this can be a really useful book. It is hard to read and the problems are notoriously hard but it is an essential reference. Problem solutions are online now and some solutions once you see how they work are not as bad as some reviewers would have you believe, but the comment that the problems sometimes seem to be make work is valid and some just seem to be problems for the sake of a clever solution rather than illuminating. When I think of Jackson I think qualifier problems. It is the standard book, but I really learned more from it after reading other books that paid more attention to the reader's needs. I give it a mixed review.
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on January 1, 2006
If you would like to learn some of the mathematics in E&M this book is nearly perfect. For those wanting to learn physics, Feynman is the appropriate book.

For example, consider the following: what is more important to you: learning how to spend time with tensors or learning why the spring model of the dipole is important?

Though Jackson is regarded as a classic, if you read Feynman for the physics, and perhaps Griffiths for the problems, you will probably know what you are talking about.

In short, Jackson does indeed have interesting discussions on certain topics, but overall this book focuses on terse mathematics rather than physics.
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