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I'm currently self-studying complex analysis (CA), and reading "Visual Complex Analysis" by Tristan Needham. I'm absolutely fascinated by how much geometric intuition he provides for the key findings in CA. It has been a very enticing read so far.

I have a mechanical engineering background, I've previously self-studied general/algebraic topology, and I'm interested in self-studying differential geometry (DG) after finishing Needham's book. I know that Needham is in the process of releasing his next book, "Visual Differential Geometry". But the exact date of release is hard to find. Can anyone recommend a few good DG textbooks that (a) pay special attention to developing the geometric intuition of the reader (and perhaps less attention to rigorous mathematical proofs), and (b) would be appropriate for a reader with my aforementioned background?

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    $\begingroup$ People mean a lot of different things when they say "differential geometry." Are you trying to learn differentiable manifolds at the graduate level? Perhaps you'd be better off starting with concrete curves and surfaces in $\Bbb R^3$? That's where you develop geometric intuition. For that, you can download my text, linked in my profile. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2020 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ To be completely honest, I only have a rough feel for how I plan on applying my knowledge of DG. So my approach is more along the lines of learning DG so as to gain deeper insight into what I could apply it to in my field, than knowing a definite application and seeking for solutions provided by DG. Having said that, I want to get into research in mesh generation for fluid dynamics modelling. So my rough goal is to gain a deeper understanding of 'space' and how to efficiently generate computational meshes in arbitrarily complex domains for the purpose of accurate numerical simulations. $\endgroup$
    – niran90
    Jan 14, 2020 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps you could edit your question to add your interest in meshes and simulations. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    May 25, 2020 at 10:52
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    $\begingroup$ Tristan Needham's new book "Visual Differential Geometry and Forms: A Mathematical Drama in Five Acts" has been delayed but Amazon are taking pre-orders with a release date of 22nd June 2021. Link : amazon.co.uk/Visual-Differential-Geometry-Forms-Mathematical/dp/… $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2020 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ Very late to the party, but Jan Koenderink's Solid Shape sounds very close to what you're seeking. There are a couple of male-gaze comments scattered across several hundred pages, but on the plus side the book contains a wealth of geometric insight via hand-drawn pictures from an engineer's perspective. $\endgroup$ Mar 7 at 21:01

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I am looking forward to Visual Differential Geometry too. On Tristan Needham's website there is currently no exact release date, but there is a full title and publisher:

His new book, Visual Differential Geometry and Forms: A Mathematical Drama in Five Acts, will be published in 2020 by Princeton University Press.

(Update: Visual Differential Geometry was published in July 2021.)

In the meantime, if you want some exposure to classical differential geometry at an introductory level, you might try Pressley's Elementary Differential Geometry. (See the MAA website for a review by Gouvêa.) Or you might try Tapp's Differential Geometry of Curves and Surfaces. (See the MAA website for a review by Hunacek.)

Neither book teaches differential forms, manifolds, connections or the like. This could be a pro or a con, but if your focus is developing some feeling for the subject in 2D or 3D then it might be an advantage. On the other hand, if you do want a gentle introduction to differential forms, Fortney's recent A Visual Introduction to Differential Forms and Calculus on Manifolds could be worth a look or Bachman's A Geometric Approach to Differential Forms.

You say you've studied general and algebraic topology, so you could also go straight to a book on manifolds such as Tu's An Introduction to Manifolds in preparation for more advanced books on differential geometry. That said, I note that in a comment you mention computational meshes. Edelbrunner's Geometry and Topology for Mesh Generation might be worth checking out. See also the resources on discrete differential geometry at http://ddg.cs.columbia.edu/.

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Well, Spivak's (what was it $5$?) volume Comprehensive Introduction to Differential Geometry is in my opinion pretty good. And it seems to me he makes some effort to develop geometric intuition.

Sorry it's been so long that I can't remember specific examples ( I want to say he did $\Bbb RP^2$ pretty well).

I just remember calling Book Scientific, to order some books, and wouldn't you know it, Spivak answered the phone.

The covers of the volumes, incidentally, fit together into one big picture.

I dare say they're a must. And when I arrived at UCLA from Berkeley, what did I see on my advisor's shelf, but Spivak's epic.

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  • $\begingroup$ Okay great! Thanks for the recommendation. I'd heard about Spivak's works, but I always assumed that they would be 'out of my league' so to speak, in terms of the amount of background mathematics that I'd require to read them. Do you think an introductory knowledge of general/algebraic topology is sufficient to delve into his 5-volume intro to DG? If not, what would you say is the 'shortest-path' (in terms of supplementary reading) to approach Spivak? $\endgroup$
    – niran90
    Jan 14, 2020 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ I figure sure, why not. Especially given that you must have a significant amount of mathematical sophistication already. Besides, I would probably rather just throw you in the ocean, and it's sink or swim. But that's just me. They're fun books. $\endgroup$
    – user403337
    Jan 14, 2020 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ Try Marsden and Tromba's Vector Calculus as a warm up. $\endgroup$
    – user403337
    Jan 14, 2020 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ Okay thanks a lot! Do you also recall having read Calculus on Manifolds by Spivak beforehand? If so, would you say it's a pre-requisite? $\endgroup$
    – niran90
    Jan 14, 2020 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ I personally didn't read it beforehand, though I did have a copy eventually. I wouldn't necessarily say it a prerequisite. There's a certain amount of overlap, probably. Sorry, it's a little hard to remember. I took the graduate Differential Geometry course with Alan Weinstein at Berkeley. It was one of our texts. While you don't have the benefit of his very good lectures, I would say gather as much information as you can. We used Hicks at UCLA. There are a number of books on the subject. $\endgroup$
    – user403337
    Jan 14, 2020 at 23:36
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Although the book is to be available 14 July in the states, if you buy it directly from Princeton University Press, they'll ship it to you now.

I'm only through 55 of its 464 pages of text, and it's fabulous. Tons of pictures. The diagrams to explain the changes in the metric from the sphere to the complex plane are gems.

You cannot find a page with only text and no equations or pictures.

Buy it

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  • $\begingroup$ I have been eagerly awaiting this day for almost 2 years! Thanks so much for letting me know about Princeton University Press! $\endgroup$
    – niran90
    Jun 21, 2021 at 9:15

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