The completion of my undergraduate degree merely cries out for a post about some of the books that helped me survive these last few years. There exists a plethora of educational texts on any possible topic within maths or physics, which could easily overwhelm students (especially first years) and prevent them from as much as stepping a foot in the university library. I know, because I, too, was initially utterly overwhelmed at the sheer amount of knowledge contained in the countless bindings of pages on the bookshelves.
It can be so easy and tempting to just always refer to some internet forum for an answer, but as fast and (usually, albeit not always) useful as the content on the WWW is, one might discover a lot of utter junk that is bound to a) confuse you even more, b) be aimed at the wrong level of expertise, c) be written by some troll who will make you feel like an idiot for asking a seemingly trivial question, and d) lure you into the darker corners of the internet, brimming with temptations to procrastinate. A quick search for an explanation of the Pointing Vector may well turn into a half-hour episode of funny cats, John Oliver or Zoella….
Today, I want to share a collection of texts that I have found incredibly helpful throughout my degree and talk about the importance of consulting some classic texts when you are stuck for an explanation of a concept. Some of these are more general texts, whilst others are geared towards a specific module; some would have appeared as “recommended textbook” for a particular course, whilst others were found on a whim from my curiosity.
Many of these might be searchable for a pdf download (at least definitely the ones I have starred!) and also bought cheap as chips second or third or hundredth-hand on www.abebooks.co.uk . I did not want to breach any copyright issues, hence no direct links to free pdf’s – but Google is your friend for the titles with the star!
I’ll begin with a more general piece which single handedly saved not only my degree, but also my sanity back in first year…
– L. Alcock, How to study for a mathematics degree.
This is a text (quite obviously) geared towards mathematicians, but any science student would benefit because it offers some indispensable guidance on how to not only go about revising for exams, but also how to manage your weekly uni life in general so as not to drive yourself insane from the abundance of blackboards and chalk and neverending assignments. Lara Alcock, who currently teaches at Loughborough University, provided me with a means of reviving my crumbling self-confidence after performing atrociously on my first ever mathematics exams (one of which I did actually fail by one mark despite solid preparation; something I am still quite ashamed of). I was terrifyingly close to dropping out at this point and starting afresh next year. What I was not aware of at the time, was that the majority of students were equally as shocked as me at the difference between their marks in A-Level exams, and those they received upon sitting their first undergraduate mathematics exams. There are few things more mentally unsettling than witnessing your previous exam scores of >93% suddenly swapping the digits back to front.
It took a book like this for me to realise that I felt like an inadequate idiot only because I happened be in the vicinity of some super smart students. In reality, I was not, and am not, an inadequate idiot. I was merely below average in the couple of modules that happened to be examined first. I thank Laura Alcock, and the person who recommended me her book, for helping me find self-courage and light at the end of this three-year-long tunnel.
Bulky enough to serve as a doorstop when not in use, this textbook covers pretty much everything in the first two years of a physics UG degree at just the right level. It satisfies the hunger, but is not quite sufficient to learn any particular topic in greater depth. It is, for this reason, a frustrating read – but at least it comes with lots of exercises and the bane of a fresher’s life: that dreaded weekly online Mastering Physics assignment….
3. M. Spivak, Calculus, (Benjamin).
A big and bulky mathematician’s bible. Along the same lines of Analysis are also:
- M. Hart, Guide to Analysis, (Macmillan) – provided me with some beautiful epiphanies, where I finally understood limits…. Currently super expensive on Amazon, and no cheap copies going on abebooks.co.uk BUT you can ask me nicely and I may choose to pass my copy onto a new, loving owner…
- * P. Walker, Examples and Theorems in Analysis, (Springer) – a snazzy collection of Analysis I, II and III all combined into a neat package of 282 pages. With examples, more examples and… examples. Maths is not a spectator sport, after all.
This became a bedtime read during my summer between years 1 and 2. Glad it mentions Topological Spaces, as opposed to the title of the module (“Metric Spaces”) here at Warwick, which fails to warn the poor student that only about 10% of the module matches this title; whilst the remaining 90% is, indeed, Topological Spaces.
Alternative to the book, here is a very handy series of lecture notes by Korner from Cambridge.
Perfect example of why I think turning to a book to understand Fourier transforms is much better than turning to the WWW. Triple integrals, spherical and cylindrical coordinates, some ‘illegal’ and wishy-washy mathematics… all to be found in this doorstop for the door not already supported by the University Physics textbook!
6. F. Mandl, Quantum mechanics, (Wiley 1992)
I never try to suppress the quantum nerd inside me, so it was only a matter of time before a quantum book made it onto this list! Mandl’s text explains things really well, and it served me for both years 2 and 3 quantum modules. Apparently not a standard textbook, but the quantum textbook of my choice…. closely followed by the Feynman Lectures on Physics vol. III, and the one which made my final year project bearable: Quantum Information and Quantum Computation by M.A. Nielsen, I.L. Chuang.
Keep this on the quiet, but I actually quite liked my Fluid Dynamics module, and this beautiful little text may have influenced this. Evidently a massive fan of Navier and Stokes. Explains lots of confusing concept in a succinct manner and comes with lots of example questions (and model solutions) to help prepare for that exam.
8. JFR McIlveen, Fundamentals of Weather and Climate, (2nd Ed, Oxford, 2010)
Weather nerrrrrd unite! The weather module would have been my favourite module, if it hadn’t been taught in the most boring way possible. So this is where I supplemented the sleep-inducing lectures with various youtube videos and textbooks such as this one and also The Atmosphere and Ocean: A Physical Introduction, by N. C. Wells (Wiley and RMetS).
9*. S. Simon, The Oxford Solid State Basics, (OUP, 2013)
A book which covers the entirety of the Solid State Physics module, as given at Oxford by Prof. Simon. An incredibly comprehensive read, with a series of video lectures on the Oxford website, with a few terrible jokes to make your heart crumble a little. But it saved my socks for the exam, so go go go!
So: here is my shortlist, though many other texts have been consulted over the few years, with many more to come in the future I am sure! Don’t ever be afraid to search out helpful resources in the library or on the net, but take the latter with a pinch of salt. Feel free to message me or comment here with more suggestions of books which you may have found indispensable – be it studying physics, mathematics, or any other science.
Over ‘n out 🙂