Judge a (Physics) Book by its Cover, Part II: Mechanics


Continuing my previous post, I wanted to mention more of my favorite (and least favorite) physics book covers. I should mention a couple of things:

  1. Book cover judgements are independent of the content of the book. However, if the book cover is indicative of being part of a series of books, then part of its purpose is identification with a larger set, and I will include a general review of the set with which the book associates itself.
  2. This is intended only for silliness.
  3. As before, images are borrowed from Amazon.com.
  4. Today I’ll be reviewing texts on classical mechanics. I’ve unintentionally arranged them roughly in order of ascending formalism.

Classical Mechanics, H. Goldstein

Goldstein is the standard graduate level mechanics text. It’s third edition is printed in Addison Wesley’s relatively new (post year 2000) standard for physics texts, which includes Sean Carroll’s Spacetime and Geometry. These texts have a hard matte cover, large margins, and are extraordinarily readable. Their typesetting is nearly flawless, with clear section demarcation, boldface terms (something I haven’t seen since high school), and easy to follow equation numbering (don’t take this for granted, see Zee’s book for example). To top it all off, these texts tend not to be reasonably priced (certainly not inexpensive, but much cheaper than Oxford press hardbound texts). The publisher has done such a splendid job with these texts that I am tempted to buy any physics text they publish that is even remotely related to my field.

Classical Dynamics: A Contemporary Approach, J. Jose and E. Saletan

This is one of the more unique book covers I’ve seen. It reprsents, I believe, invariant torii associated with the hamiltonian flow of a classical system. The text is somewhat thick with a soft cover and off-white paper that makes it seem like another book that was published in a way to make it fit in at a Barnes and Noble.

Course of Theoretical Physics: Mechanics, E.M. Lifshitz, L.D. Landau

This is one of the skinniest mechanics books you’ll ever find. (But dont’ be fooled, it’s so dense with information that it’s about to turn into a white dwarf.) Asides from cover art that says “I was hip in the 70s,” the Course of Theoretical Physics series by Landau and Lifshitz are the gold standard of Russian physics education (the equivalent of Germany’s Greiner). These texts are rigorous, mathematical, and will whip you into shape like nobody’s business. They tend to be difficult for students with an American education, and I find myself instantly respecting anybody with a couple of volumes on their bookshelves.

Mathematical Methods in Classical Mechanics, V.I. Arnold

Talk about brand-name recognition: the bright yellow Springer-Verlag covers automatically signals that you’re looking at a math books. As I mentioned in my previous post, Springer’s super-plain book covers make them instantly recognizable. They’ve published enough very good books with the yellow cover that I’ve subconsciously learned to trust all of their texts.


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