Judge a (Physics) Book by its Cover, Part III: Misc.

02Aug06

In more senselessness, I’m adding one more installment to my “Judge a (Physics) Book by its Cover” posts. My first post dealt with quantum field theory texts and my second post addressed mechanics texts. This time around I’ll be commenting unnecessarily about the covers of some of the remaining “standard” texts in high energy physics. I will comment on some “brand name” of a particular series of textbooks as well as some of actual cover art of other texts.

Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, D. Griffiths

Griffiths Quantum Mechanics text is the standard for introductory courses. The new edition has a glossy, blue cover which isn’t as nice as the black, textured first edition. I would suspect that the second edition isn’t as sturdy as the first, if not for the binding of my first edition text has fallen apart. What most students pick up on when they look at their book cover is that the cat on the cover is Schrodinger’s cat, the death-defying protagonist of one of the most famous gendanken experiments in physics. What most people do not realize, however, is that the back cover has this image:

No, that cat isn’t sleeping. It’s dead! How many textbooks can boast featuring a dead animal on it’s back cover?

Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions, C. Quigg and Lie Algebras in Particle Physics, H. Georgi


I’m reviewing both of these books (and their respective series) because (1) I didn’t realize they were part of different series, and (2) they’re both now being published by Westview press. The Advanced Book Classics covers (Quigg) feature an “alpha and omega” theme (or is that fine structure and energy density?) while the Frontiers in Physics texts feature a little blue bar with dynkin diagrams (the design changes subtly for different titles). The bottom line with these covers is that I automatically associate them with very good quality. They’re paperback with good quality paper, though older reprints (i.e. pre-LaTeX, or even worse, typewriter era) don’t get the benefit of being retypeset.

String Theory, J. Polchinski and D-Branes, C. Johnson and Superstring Theory, M. Green, J. Schwarz, E. Witten

The three classic string theory texts all happen to be part of the Cambrige Monographs on Mathematical Physics series. (Zwiebach’s text is also published by Cambridge Press, though it’s more of an undergraduate text.) Polchinski’s cover is self explanatory–it’s a picture of strings! (Here one appreciates the cover of Zee’s QFT text.) Clifford’s text is the standard cover for hardcover texts in this series (the color differs by title). It’s exceedingly serious, but does have a sense of authority about it. Unlike Griffiths’ QM text above, Clifford’s D-Branes book screams “only interesting to grown ups who don’t need pictures.” (This is actually quite the opposite, as I’ve found it to be the most accessible self-respecting string theory book.) Green-Schwarz-Witten is a paperback reproduction of the hardcover “art.” All of the texts in this series are well typeset an printed on high quality paper. I must admit that I always think of Polchinksi’s two volumes as the older brothers of Weinberg’s three QFT books due to the similar neon-on-black covers. (Both sets are published by Cambridge in recent years, though Weinberg is actually part of the Frontiers in Physics series mentioned above.)

Field Quantization, W. Greiner


I should have mentioned this in my first post, but Greiner’s Field Quantization text is my favorite introductory QFT book (though really only effective in combination with Peskin and Zee). It’s part of Greiner’s series of theoretical physics texts used in Germany (he’s the Landau/Lifshitz of Germany), which are slowly becoming translated–albeit not without typos. I should also mention that my copy of Field Quantization has lower quality paper than the versions I found in both the Berkeley and Stanford physics libraries, even though there is only one edition printed. I suspect subsequent printings tried to skimp on paper costs. The series is also more artistic than most texts, with watercolor insets (loosely relevant to each book’s contents) that I wouldn’t mind having on my wall. The texts are also well typeset, much like the Addison-Wesley physics texts, ample margins and good spacing for equations. The best feature of this series, however, are the careful explanations and extensive worked examples that show students how to appoach problems.

A Comprehensive Introduction to Differential Geometry, M. Spivak

Okay, it’s not a physics text, but when one is talking about book covers, one cannot help but mention this series of math books. Spivak has written what may be the “great American Differential Geometry series.” He has chosen the covers of his five books to portray scenes of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with ample references to differential geometry. The book covers are visible here: Book cover images. I include a portion of a correspondence with Michael Spivak:

The theme of the albatrosses around my neck was used for volume 2 of the previous edition. The other volumes had different themes, although water was used as way of unifying volumes 3-5, which are considered (and have chapters numbered) as a single volume. For the third edition I decided to make everything dependent on the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, as explained somewhat tartly in the colophon to volume 1; I even forced myself to read the whole ghastly thing. The ship of fools sets sail in volume 1, just like the journey of the ancient mariner, while volumes 3-5 show the gathering for the wedding with which the poem begins. Each cover contains some mathematical references to topics or figures from the respective volume. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

How’s that for a well thought-out book cover?




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