Waves and Oscillations: A Prelude to Quantum Mechanics
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2012
I really want to give this text 4.5 stars; but, the amazon form doesn't allow one to do that...

Anyway, I taught a college sophomore-level class on Vibrations, Waves, and Optics for three years. For such a class, my department likes to teach with a mathematical background which makes use of complex variables and basic linear algebra (i.e. the ability to manipulate matrices and the ability find and use eigenvectors and eigenvalues). In my view, a class (and text) like this should fulfill two objectives: (1) it should teach applied Fourier analysis (and Fourier analysis's application to as wide a spectrum of examples as possible); and, (2) it should prepare the students for their first serious course on Quantum Mechanics. As much as possible, the course and text should introduce the mathematics and concepts that the students will encounter in quantum mechanics in a classical context. This second objective makes the transition to quantum mechanics as lucid as possible so that students are grappling with the parts of Quantum Mechanics which are truly surprising and not the parts that are just due to the wave nature of the wave functions. Walter Fox Smith's text achieves both of these objectives and does so well.

I spent the first couple of years that I taught the class looking for a text which fulfilled these objectives and did so with the level of mathematical sophistication that I wanted in my class. In general, the texts that I found before the publication of Smith's text were terrible: the students (and I) found the texts hard to read and hard to learn from. Smith's text organizes the material in a way that is easier to learn than from the books that I found previously. In fact, the rather vociferous complaints that I had received about the texts in previous years fell silent (well, there was one complaint that one student didn't like the aesthetics of the formatting in Smith's text... but, that seems like a minor complaint).

My only complaint (the reason that I would want to give this text 4.5 stars) is that, as with any first edition, there are typos in the text. A comprehensive list of the errata for the text may be found at the book's companion website. In my class, the first problem on the first assignment was to download the errata and correct the text. Compared to my experiences with other texts, this is a minor annoyance.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Waves and Oscillators are ubiquitous in all of science, not just QM. The Neural oscillations that are more and more explaining brain function, electronic circuits and op amps, chemistry, astronomy, and of course physics, classic, relative and quantum.

If you review hundreds of books in this field as I do for our library clients, you will be shocked to find NONE that really detail the mathematical notation and practical techniques assuming NO experience with complex exponentials, eigenfunctions, Fourier transforms, etc. This book is literally the MISSING LINK between undergrad and grad math-- transitioning from algebra to linear algebra and differential equations (like many do), BUT explaining in detail what the math symbols mean, why we use them the way we do, and how they relate to the real world.

It's not just this author's stunning grasp of teaching, it also is the subject matter: waves and oscillations are ideal "teaching examples" for transition to complex math, as the very problems that stimulated the need for such math. Other reviewers all over the web have praised this text as a course book, but I'd like to add that the format, unlike many or even most, also is ideal for self study.

I may be admitting nerdhood, but a lot of my friends "dabble" in Quantum Mechanics. It can be fun, interesting and certainly cutting edge. But to be devastatingly honest, a lot of us run into a brick wall with superposition, Hilbert space, bra-ket notation, etc. and usually blame the "math." Well, after studying Smith, a VERY BRIGHT lightbulb goes off-- it is NOT just the math or notation, it is the fact that learning the wave and oscillation underpinnings of QM is a MUST for "getting" why the notation is used and useful in the first place! If you love QM but have been stumped, a HUGE AHA awaits you with this text.

If you get oscillators in Hilbert space there is no "guarantee" you'll get QM state spaces therein also, but it sure is a good bet that your chances are much better once you have the underpinnings. The QM tensors are tough, but once you get the "hang" of substitution using dot products and other foundation techniques, a lot of the gaps will be filled.

Beyond speculative QM, there also is the not insignificant fact that waves and oscillations are still the subject of every electronic circuit known to science! The book promotes itself as a prelude to the "sexy" QM, but that can distort the fact that the book's own subject is just as cutting edge, and certainly more practically relevant so far than QM. This isn't to diminish the esoteric goal, it is to praise the material in itself for itself. Probably too simple for grad EE students, but for all the rest of us, what a gem.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2011
It's easy for textbooks, especially physics textbooks to get bland and use stuffy/complex language. Smith takes you through things at a good pace with a nice mix of theoretical and concrete treatment. I have two waves and optics textbooks by different authors. I skimmed most of my old book because the chapters were long and didn't have many applications. This book was very well organized and if you need more applications than what's in the chapter there are really cool apps on the book website and the HWK problems give great applications too! Smith really has a delightful sense of humor-- you can tell he loves the subject.
What's interesting about this book is he approaches the material using math that is extremly useful in Quantum Physics. The transition to quantum is tough on a lot of people but this book makes preparing easier and more enjoyable. I thought I would sell the book back when I was done with the class but it's a great reference-- at the end of each chapter there's a list of "what you should know", "key terms", that includes applied and conceptual terms rather than just equations(my last book just listed equations which was annoying). The lists are extremely useful if you're having trouble recalling stuff for HWK or need to look up something for another course. I am so glad I used this book. Smith is really cool and most importantly the physics was well explained!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2011
Pros: This book gives a very well-thought-out treatment of harmonic oscillation, without losing sight of important techniques for solving all kinds of common differential equations. The section on normal mode analysis is very clear, and introduces key quantum mechanical notation (like bra-ket notation) early on. The book really shines, though, in its introduction of the DFT, which is entirely natural and intuitive. The incorporation of Mathematica into many of the problems is a nice touch, but is not essential to the book.

Cons: Even for a physics text, this book lacks in mathematical rigour at points. The transition from discrete to continuous Fourier analysis is a bit rocky, due to a lack of mathematical grounding. Presentation can be cartoonish.

Overall: Smith takes a novel and highly successful approach to what might otherwise be a "mathematical methods" text. Although certainly not as formal or as complete as some of the alternatives, this book is highly accessible, and will provide an intuitive introduction to the extremely important subject of harmonic oscillation for everyone from advanced freshmen to juniors. The incorporation of Java applets into many of the problems is also unusual for a text of this kind, and is a big win. Definitely a book worth seeing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2013
I had to opportunity to use this book in a sophomore-level course prior to taking quantum mechanics. As an introduction to waves/oscillations, and even more so as a lead-in to a course on quantum mechanics, this book is excellent. The writing is very casual (but not excessively so), relying on physical intuition to attack a problem before going into the math. This makes the subject very approachable and the math much easier to understand.

Smith also draws connections between oscillations in various systems, from mechanical waves to E&M, and provides many examples of how the tools described are used in modern physics. The notation and concepts used are those used more extensively in upper-level quantum mechanics courses (e.g. Hilbert space, bra-ket notation), getting the reader in the habit of using these so he or she can worry about the physics rather than notation in future QM courses. Not only did it get me excited about quantum mechanics, it also make the course the following semester much easier.

The only downside is that this writing style leads to slightly less mathematical rigor, but this doesn't take away from the book. Overall, this is an lucid, thorough, and accessible text on waves that also provides excellent grounding in the notation of quantum mechanics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2011
This book is really helpful. I took a class on waves with this, and still used it a few times during a physics research internship. Walter Fox Smith breaks down some tough concepts (like Hilbert Space) into easy-to-understand explanations with common language.

If you like waves and/or physics texts, this book is definitely a buy.
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on March 11, 2015
(keep in mind I've only read through the first 4 chapters)

The book doesn't come with any answers to the exercises, you have to be a registered university professor to get access to those on the internet. Mayor negative.

Another drawback is lack of interesting illustrations/images. Black and white line illustrations aren't very inspiring, and makes it more difficult to maintain interest in order to get through the material.

However, the text itself is mostly pretty good, althought I feel it could be more precise with the definitions. For example, in the first chapter on simple harmonic motion, it would be nice if the book had something like a definition box, stating: "SHM is a wave which follows a sinosuidal curve, where the force net force acting on the object in motion is always directed towards the object's eqilibrium position, and at all points has absolute value equal to a constant multiply of the distance from the eqilibrium position (F = kx)." or something like that, would immidiately remove any confusion regarding what SHM actually is.

I do feel the book (what I've read of it so far) has some really good potensial, shouldn't take much work to at least bring it up to 4 or 5 stars.
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on June 24, 2013
you know i havnt had time to sit down yet and work it out but by reviewing it, it has alot of material. just waiting for the time.
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on January 18, 2011
I really like this book. The book deals with waves and oscillations in a very mathematical way. It also teaches you how to make proper approximations that will make the math clean while retaining the accuracy of the model.(I was never good at that). It provides an excellent introduction to quantum.
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on May 11, 2015
No solutions - no bibliography - obscenely overpriced.
Why would anyone buy this when they can have a
handful of proven dover paperbacks for the same dough?
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