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I’m a maths PhD student looking for recommendations for physics books.

I haven’t really done much physics, and I’m wanting to learn the main topics, mechanics (Euler Lagrange etc), electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. Everything that is covered in the Feynman lectures but having looked through them, they don’t seem to go as far as I would like and he seems to develop the maths needed (in a handwavy way) to cover the material.

I imagine I might need multiple references ideally assuming the reader already knows the necessary maths or the maths is at the start and I can just skip it!

Thanks in advance.

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    $\begingroup$ This previous question might help you. $\endgroup$
    – Jessie
    Feb 24, 2021 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ University Physics by Robert/Fridman is a good one. The theoretical minimum by Susskind/Hrabovsky is also a fun read. Feynman's lectures are great as well. $\endgroup$
    – K.defaoite
    Feb 24, 2021 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Griffiths has great physics textbooks. Very clear style. Purcell's book on electromagnetism is quite good. The No-Nonsense series of physics books is good, as is Physics from Symmetry by the same author. $\endgroup$
    – littleO
    Feb 24, 2021 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @littleO I absolutely agree about the books by Schwichtenberg! especially Physics from symmetry. I was hesitant to recommend them to OP because it's hard for me to tell how well they would be received by a mathematician. $\endgroup$
    – Sal
    Feb 24, 2021 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ I don't have specific recommendations to make, but I'd like to point out that in U.K. universities undergraduates in math frequently study physics to a high level in a way that takes advantage of their knowledge of math much more than would be the case for physics undergraduates. So I can recommend a few starting points for further bibliographical research that are adapted for readers who are more sophisticated mathematically. First, have a look at the bibliography for the physics courses in the curriculum for the Cambridge undergraduate program in $\endgroup$
    – Anonymous
    Mar 30, 2021 at 3:01

2 Answers 2

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Series' of books

The theoretical minimum by Landau: ten physics-packed volumes over a variety of topics that Landau considered the 'theoretical minimum' for any physicist to know: from classical mechanics to condensed matter and field theory. They assume a level of mathematical competence on the reader's part, and are very focused on the physics, so might be what you're looking for. On the other hand, each volume has a lot of detail that you might not be interested in.

A more modern version of this idea is Greiner's Theoretical physics. In a way, this series is less 'complete' than 'The theoretical minimum': the statistical physics volume is introductory only, and there is no treatment of kinetic theory or fluid dynamics. However, the books are focused on introducing modern theories, e.g. gauge theory, and are really well explained.

A very 'student-friendly' version of this idea is the books by Griffiths, which I do like; but I cannot recommend to you, because they are very hand-wavy, more so than The Feynman lectures.

Individual books

I was reminded in the comments about the excellent Physics from symmetry by Jakob Schwichtenberg: a very readable introduction to field theory, and really emphasizes the 'big picture' stuff, while still actually doing (some) calculations. I was hesitant to recommend this at first, but you should probably at least give it a chance because of its conceptual clarity.

Here are the 'canonical' textbooks$^\dagger$ in the topics you mentioned:

For electromagnetism: Classical electrodynamics by Jackson, infamous amongst grad students. Since you will probably be mostly interested in the first few chapters, which are covered well in Greiner's book: Classical electrodynamics, I can't really recommend Jackson to you.

For classical mechanics: Goldstein is standard. You might prefer the more geometrically oriented Classical dynamics: A contemporary approach by Jose and Saletan.

For quantum mechanics: Probably the book by Sakurai. However, I think you might enjoy Quantum mechanics: A modern development by Ballentine. It has the very least hand-waving in a QM book that I've seen, and is clearly intended for those of a mathematical inclination. This book justifies things at a level that is simply not seen in other introductory texts.

$\dagger$ Obviously this is subjective. I'm basing these on "likely to be set in an introductory grad school course".

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  • $\begingroup$ Great! Thanks a lot I will check them out :) $\endgroup$
    – MP34
    Feb 24, 2021 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @MP34 Consider accepting an answer if your question has been resolved. Also, no problem! $\endgroup$
    – Sal
    Feb 27, 2021 at 13:41
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I would suggest using Taylor's "Classical Mechanics" or Goldstein, Griffiths "Introduction to Electrodynamics" (although not very rigorous, it provides a great intuition for the physics) and Sakurai for Quantum Mechanics.

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