This 220 page 6 x 8.5 little text is packed with valuable nuggets, and does NOT shy away from advanced math. This book is based on the popular Stanford, online and YouTube "adult ed" lectures and is targeted at scientists and "amateurs" who missed physics in undergrad but are still interested.
NOT a "popular" physics book with a bunch of fluffy, non substantial speculation about membranes, stings, fractals, superpositioned states and multiple universes! Has real, tough, solid content with a LOT of advanced formulas, including tensors and many partial derivatives. You CAN "get" these with supplemental study, but the pace of the 11 lectures included is fast enough to leave you behind very quickly if you're rusty in math.
I teach ordinary differential equations to non engineers at classpros dot com, including Psychologists interested in the latest progress in nonlinear dynamical systems as applied to neurons, behavior, etc. This book is a real GEM as an intro to those topics, without "dumbing down" the content for a "lay" audience.
If you love reading populist texts on quantum physics, etc. this wonderful book will take you all the way from classic upwards, with the requisite math, and will provide a great foundation for really getting what's going on in the more advanced areas. Unfortunately, the math will scare lots of folks off, but please, don't be one of them!
The 11 lectures included are: 1. Classical Physics, 2. Motion, 3. Dynamics, 4. Multiple Particle Systems, 5. Energy, 6. Least Action Principle, 7. Symmetries and Conservation, 8. Hamiltonian Mechanics, 9. Phase Space Fluid and Gibbs-Liouville, 10. Poisson Brackets, Angular Momentum, Symmetries, 11. Electric and Magnetic Forces.
There also is an appendix on Central Forces and Planetary Orbits and "math interludes" on Trig, Vectors, Integrals and PDE's. NOTE that only classical mechanics are covered here, HOWEVER circular motion and momentum are covered, and if you've seen the "Feynman" approach to QED (QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter), you know that even advanced Physics grad students were astonished that Richard was able to use "clock metaphors" and circular momentum to explain Quantum math and mechanics that normally take a grad student 3 years to master!
Nothing is covered in a LOT of depth, for example there's little on computational complexity, but the theory of information conservation is touched on briefly as the "most fundamental of all physical laws" -- the cyclic "memory" of where we start and end!
The REALLY COOL thing is that the authors don't talk down to us, they assume that just as "amateurs" can discover new stars in Astronomy, non-college types can also make great new contributions in Physics! No fooling, no tongue in cheek. Seems like a revolutionary view from Stanford types, but perhaps they've seen the future of distributed, non-brick and mortar education for real! At under 20 bucks this is a MUST HAVE even for HS students in my humble opinion. GREAT GIFT for a bright grandchild for their 18th birthday as well! This is such an original math refresher too, that I'm guessing a lot of folks will also use it to brush up on applied math. By page 60 we're already at differential equations-- so hang on to your saddle!
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on April 28, 2013
I majored in humanities but I'm interested in math and science, and I find this book both challenging and rewarding. But as I worked through it I found a number of things that looked wrong. Eventually I Googled the book's web site and found an Errata file that I downloaded. It identified 58 errors, most of them in equations and many of them significant enough to thoroughly befuddle a careful reader who trusted the book as written. That's an appalling number of errors. Somebody at Basic Books ought to be looking for a new job. I recommend the book if you are interested and willing to read carefully, but if you can't wait for a second, corrected printing be sure to download the Errata before you dig in!
on February 8, 2013
The "Theorical Minimum" was the name of the exam that applicants had to pass in order to enter the theoretical physics department of the Kharkov Physicotechnical Institute headed by Lev Davidovich Landau. L. D. Landau, along with A.I. Kitaigorodskii, is also known to have written a serie of four great popular science books presenting general physics to young people, "Physics for everyone" (which happens to be the name of Leonard Susskind's blog too...). I'm wondering if "The Theoretical Minimum: what you need to know to start doing physics" couldn't be the first book of a follow-up to "Physics for everyone".
I've studied physics in university but I've stopped before starting working on a PhD. That was more than ten years ago and I needed to earn a living but I still loved science especially physics. One day I've discovered the Leonard Susskind's Theoretical Minimum courses on Youtube and Itunes and I was litterally astonished by them as they are exactly what I was looking for: not courses for advanced undergraduate students, not popular science presentations devoid of any technicity (theoretical physics without maths is an empty shell: theoretical physics is about creating mathematical models of the physical world) but courses for people like me who knew some maths and physics at one point of their life and that want to learn the concepts of theoretical physics. Each course is made of about ten lectures, each lectures lasting about two hours. Watching these is quite time consuming and time is sparse if you have a job and a family. Also the courses were sometimes a little sketchy or not quite well organized (especially the first run... the second run is a lot better). The material simply had to be reworked and layed out on paper. George Hrabovsky felt these were necessary too so he contacted Leonard Susskind and voila, we now have a book, the first of a whole serie, the one about classical mechanics.
I knew about some of the material in the book. In the quantum mechanics (QM) courses I followed I learned about least-action principle, Lagrangians, Hamiltonians (fundamental in QM) and Poisson brackets (their siblings, commutators, are also fundamental in QM). The problem is that these notions and their purpose didn't make sense to me. I wasn't told or I didn't have time to realize their conceptual power and that they could be used in classical mechanics: use of Lagrangian formalism to understand the double pendulum, use of Poisson brackets to determine the behavior of a charged rotor in a magnetic field. Also I wasn't told about Noether's theorem (relationship between symmetries and conserved quantities), Liouville's theorem (well perhaps in statistical mechanics... I'm not sure) or the importance of gauge fields (vector potential field is one) but that may be because I wasn't taught to be a theoricist. Here Leonard Susskind's a guide who shows us the elegance of all these concepts and prepares us to a voyage to quantum physics and field theories.The book shows the coherence of these concepts, it structures the reader's mind (if he makes the proper efforts by doing the exercises: doing exercises are necessary to learn and understand). George Hrabovsky brought us a great contribution by making the text more accessible (in the videos the student is assumed to know about calculus and general physics) and whipping out ambiguities. The book isn't entirely self-contained though (for example total differentials or Taylor series are used without these notions being introduced... just search "Taylor series" and "total derivative" in Wikipedia) but George will provide some support to the reader in his web site.
Theoretical Minimum - Classical Mechanics isn't another popular science book. It's a book that you'll have to work through a bit but it's a book that will structure your perception of our physical world. This book is the first of a serie that could become somehow the theoretical physics equivalent of Feynman's Lectures. You won't become a theorical physicist just by working through this book and the ones that will follow (have a look at a Quantum Field Theory textbook and you'll see). However if you are interested in physics (not only theoretical) the book will tell you about the concepts used in physics, how physicists manipulate them, how physicists do math and what makes physicists tick.
I really hope that this book will be translated in many languages.
Why didn't someone think of this before? The apparent target audience for this book is non-physicists who want to learn some *real* physics - which means learning the math too - starting from the basics and progressing up to a relatively high level.
The authors do clearly and systematically explain everything, pretty much step by step, but don't get overly optimistic. The climb starts easy and gentle enough, but becomes increasingly steeper and you'll be starting to feel the burn by the time you're a quarter to half way through the book. So come to the book with some prior comfort with higher mathematics, a willingness to exert yourself, and the discipline to pace yourself and be patient, taking breaks when needed.
If you meet all of these prerequisites, I predict that you'll be richly rewarded by undertaking this journey with this gem of a book as your tour guide. And regarding the journey, I should clarify that the scope of the book is limited to classical mechanics (Newtonian mechanics and its developments up to the 19th century), though the title doesn't convey that (the preface does). So you wont see any quantum mechanics or relativity here, and let's hope that the authors write additional books to cover those and other topics as well!
Last but not least, I suspect that a 'secret' additional audience for this book will be physics majors seeking a breezy overview to complement their regular (big and detailed) textbooks. :-)
on March 25, 2013
This book will help you refresh your understanding of those graduate physics courses you've already taken, but I doubt many popular-physics readers will get much out of it.
I had hoped this book would bridge the gap between the high-level explanations in popular physics books and the heavy math that is ubiquitous in serious physics courses. Unfortunately, the book did not deliver for me.
It assumes you have little or no background in trigonometry, vectors, and calculus. These are subjects I know well. I appreciated the authors' review of this material, but I sensed that if I didn't already know this content, I would not have been able to learn it from the book's brief and quite abstract coverage. About halfway through the book, I reached material that was new for me, and sure enough, I was unable to learn from the book's explanations. Although the book assumed I was unfamiliar with introductory calculus, it made the odd choice of assuming I had a working knowledge of functionals and the calculus of variations--a far more advanced topic.
The book reads too much like a graduate-level text--filled with abstract functions and subscripted variables, with few examples, diagrams, or numbers. It skips nontrivial steps in manipulating equations, and leaves too much of the work for the reader in the form of "exercises." For example, instead of explaining conservation laws, the book simply presents a single abstract example followed by an exercise that simply says "Explain this conservation." (No, the answers don't appear in the back of the book.)
on March 31, 2013
Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky's book "The Theoretical Minimum" is designed to teach an audience interested in physics and math the basic concepts of classical mechanics. It is based on Leonard Susskind's lectures at Stanford University, which are freely available on the internet. The content is supposed to provide the reader with the knowledge required to understand the next course, quantum mechanics, whose respective lectures are also freely available on the internet. I personally had started with those quantum mechanics lectures and quickly found myself in a position where I did not understand a thing. So I went one step back, downloaded Susskind's lectures on classical mechanics and got this book as an additional help.
Until about half of the book I was superexcited! The explanations of differential equations, integration, and trigonometry were extremely helpful to refresh my knowledge in basic math. If this were the only thing the book achieved, I would already regard its purchase a good investment. Also the basic physics were described very well and I started to remember a lot from my highschool and college physics courses. The problems then started in the second half, where the content moved on to topics that I had never heard about and which I thus had to learn from scratch (rather than re-activating already existing knowledge). And the job that the book does with teaching new stuff from scratch is unfortunately far less impressive. The Lagrange-Euler equations, for instance, almost had me give up. I read the respective chapter in the book and understood absolutely nothing. Then I saw the respective online lecture, but was still mostly confused and understood only very little. I then went through several other sources on the Internet and printed and read a whole pile of teaching material that I found there. I then got back to the book and read the chapter again. Now, I had the feeling that I got most of it. And when I again watched the respective lecture, I finally found the topic understandable. I had similar problems with the Hamiltonian, with Poisson Brackets, or with the concepts of Curl and Divergance. I somehow have the feeling the book could have done a much better job to make these topics more accessible - particularly for the audience that it is targeted at. After all, had I not purchased this book precisely because I did not want to have to fight myself through a pile of information on the internet? Rather than becoming the "leading source" to understand many of the complicated problems and concepts, "The Theoretical Minimum" eventually was only one of many sources I had to deal with.
In conclusion, if you did know everything that the book deals with at an earlier time, but you have forgotton most of it, this book is for you. It will help you to refresh and maybe to deepen your knowledge. If you did know only some of the material at an earlier time, as I did, you will find yourself struggling. With help of the free online lectures and using the internet and other resources, you will eventually be able to understand most of the content. But it is going to be a huge effort! If you have no significant background on math and physics at all, I predict this book is going to be a very frustrating experience.
on March 26, 2013
This looked interesting but I gave up because I found the equation fonts frustratingly tiny and faint on the Kindle edition. I'll buy a hard copy but it would be great if people creating Kindle editions thought more about formatting and layout issues for books like this.
Up front, I want to acknowledge that throughout school and college, my lowest grades were in mathematics and natural science courses and I passed the last one I took only because I promised the instructor I would never take another. However, I had heard raves from non-scientists about Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky's book and now I understand why so many others think so highly of it.
First, for non-scientists such as I, this is what the book is NOT: easy to read and understand, dumbed down/watered down/etc., condescending, riveting or boring. Susskind and Hrabovsky introduce and correlate material in incremental, almost layered fashion so that (like LEGOS), items of information are carefully connected and combined to increase the reader's understanding. I found the pace of this progression from Lecture 1 until Lecture 11 somewhat brisk at times but somehow I managed to keep up and, of course, could always re-read one of the three "Interludes" or an earlier passage in a Lecture that I highlighted in anticipation of confusion later.
Susskind and Hrabovsky include several dozen "Exercises" within the narrative. I strongly recommend having a notebook near at hand in which to complete them. (Note: The Mead Black Marble Wide-Ruled Composition Book is my personal preference.) I also strongly recommend adding Appendix 2 in which the authors explain how best to formulate correct responses to the exercises...also [begin italics] why [end italics]. Readers will appreciate the direct and personal, conversational rapport that Susskind and Hrabovsky establish and then sustain. Reading the book was not an easy "journey" for me to complete and therefore I appreciated having these knowledgeable and patient mentors as my companions.
Consider this passage in Interlude 2, Page 55:
"There are some tricks to doing integrals. One trick is to look them up in a table of integrals. Another is to learn to use Mathematica. But if you're on your own and you don't recognize the integral, the oldest trick in the book is integration by parts."
The words are in English but might just as well have been in Mandarin or Welsh. Only after re-reading several passages did I finally "get it." More than a century ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes insisted that he would "give his life for simplicity on the other side of complexity." Time and again as worked my way through this book, I remembered that statement and now believe that the theoretical minimum is to be found there.
I cannot claim that I fully understand, much less appreciate all of the material that Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky provide but I do think the book has increased substantially my understanding of how to start doing physics. My next step is to re-read the passages I have highlighted and, in a month or two, take another shot at the exercises.
How rare that, when establishing a tutorial relationship with readers such as I, they do not make the material easier; rather, they make it [begin italics] easier to understand [end of italics] by improving our skills so that we understand it better than we otherwise could. I am again reminded that all great teachers are great explainers.
on January 30, 2013
I'm only halfway through this book, but I felt I had to write a review. In many ways this is the book I was looking for... a genuine attempt to communicate concepts that unify Physics, not a diatribe on how brilliant the author is and how amazing the reader is for understanding all the complicated math formulas. Even with a non-existent or elementary knowledge of Calculus, if you want to get a deep understanding of dynamics, energy and conservation laws (if you don't know what these are, read the book!), this is the book for you. I feel I finally 'get' Physics.
Professor Susskind is a researcher in cutting-edge Physics, and he is smart enough to know that the basic concepts that underlie Classical and Quantum Mechanics can be grasped by anyone.
on May 22, 2013
On kindle, the written functions are rendered as pictures and not as text. In this process of translation, most functions have been rendered unintelligible. And because the author of the book utilizes functions as both premise and proof, the corrupted functions make learning impossible.
I haven't examined the print version. If there are not these errors in it, I still wouldn't recommend it. The author writes as if he presumes that these ideas are self evident, and they are not.