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Advice on what to read next?

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Hi all:

Having some time ago finished Ian Morison's excellent Introduction to Astronomy and Cosmology I've been looking for something to take my understaning a bit further. I'm looking for recommendations for further reading with the aim of getting a better grasp of some of the material. For example, while Morison shows Keplers Laws, he doesn't show how they are derived - that's the kind pof detail I am looking for. The problem is that my lack of a strong maths background is an issue and limits what I can realistically use. So far I have considered mainly the following:

Bennet et al, The Cosmic Perspective.

Looks good and quite comprehensive, but seems to have less maths than the Morison book, so I'm concerned it might actually be a step back rather than forward in theoretical terms. I can't be sure though as I have not seen many excerpts.

Bradley et al, An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics.

Content looks good but the maths has now gone too much the other way. My high school level calculus is rusty but probably okay, but that won't see me through the pages of multi variable integration.


So I'm thinking there are three possibilties:

1) I'm wrong about one of these books and it'll be fine. I should get it and read it. If so, which one?

2) There is another book out there that is just what I'm looking for. Love to hear about it.

3) If I want to understand this stuff I need to stop kidding myself and get a decent grounding in maths and basic physics. Then go for Bennet. If so, any pointers on good places to start?


Anyone care to offer some advice?



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In the end 3 is the only way. Unfortunately the English language  is limited if you want to understand the physical world. You don't need to understant the mathematical proofs but you need to be comfortable with equations and a discussion of what they mean.

Regards Andrew 

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No BAD thing to possess (at least) one *pukka* text book which includes the
"sample maths" of subjects that interest you? Looks good on a bookshelf! ;)

But I do believe there are multiple levels of understanding. I have text books
on a onetime "specialist subject", the *maths* of which I most certainly don't
understand in any meaningful detail now. If I ever did... to REAL purpose! :p

But, if one can get away from the FEAR of the (odd!) mathematical formula
in text books, there is a certain "visual appeal" or "rhythm" of such things?
The idea that someone/somewhere understands it is/was sufficient for me! :)

"Popular Science" books have their place! But it's no BAD thing to appreciate
such things do have a mathematical basis. Otherwise *anyone* could invent
*any* kind of speculative "theory" on stuff... Don't get me started! Heheh :D

Edited by Macavity
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Beyond equipping yourself with a very very basic understanding of say Calculus, and by that I mean a qualitative understanding of what rate of change means and how it relates to differentiation and integration ; then I would agree with all of the above. You don't need to be able to actually do the the maths, in any respect why would you,unless of course for fun? Seriously, the maths is for technicians, it's the understanding of the consequences that matter. My only other recommendation is persevere, don't expect the understanding to come on first reading or from one source either. Be resourceful and resilient, treat it like your own personal research, make notes as you go along. For a relatively easily digestible presentation of the principal areas of physics try Hyper Physics web site.


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Good stuff, Jim. Was prompted to wonder re. (LHC) progress of automated Computer
Code generation from (whiteboard!) diagrams. AKA Code "Technician" redundancies? 
Shows what can be done now? ERROR free... In hours, rather than months, years etc. 

I think (any)one can genuinely equip themselves with an "overview" of Calculus. One
thing that I NOTE: a lot of "Theoretical Physics" uses Vectors & Matrices (notation). A
simple "A" & "B" of algebra might have 3-dimensions. Or FOUR, "Including "time"! ;)
But if you try the basic SMALL matrix maths examples it need never be repeated? lol

In "my day" there were few text books beyond A-Level... First Degree... Even Ph.D.
foundation year. Lecturers were always "very bright guys", but there was a significant
knowledge-gap between them (their books) and their students? It's BETTER now! :)

Kudos (our own) George Jones who turned me onto the excellent (Particle Physics):
Still pretty much the full story? All the (updated) stuff I should've known back then!

I still vaguely wonder what aspiring "Pro" Astronomers and Astrophysicists read? :p

Edited by Macavity
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17 minutes ago, Macavity said:

I think (any)one can genuinely equip themselves with an "overview" of Calculus. One
thing that I NOTE is that a lot of "Theoretical Physics" uses Vectors and Matrices. The
simple "A" & "B" of algebra might have 3-dimensions... FOUR, "Including "time"! ;)
But if you try some basic SMALL matrix maths examples it need never be repeated? lol

A basic understanding of series expansion and Fourier transforms ...   ...might also be good.

Cosmology is surprisingly simple if you start with the simple solutions of the GR equations but if you want to understand celestial mechanics or stellar evolution and spectra it get a bit harder. If I don't understand the equations I just plough on regardless!

Regards Andrew

Edited by andrew s
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  • 2 weeks later...

Kaufmann's Universe has been in print for a long time and is an introductory first year university textbook. It's very accessible, the maths is is organized so as to be 'optional' and the whole book is encouraging, with helpful graphics. I'm very fond of my copy and keep thinkinng of updating it.



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Thanks all, some more to add to the list. At the moment I've got the following (rather convoluted) plan to get myself up to speed.

1) Quickly blast through the Teach Yourself maths books (mathematics, algebra, trig). I've covered all this before but am really rusty; also, I find covering old material from a new writer almost always throws up some gap in what I think I already know. See this bit as mostly tedious, but necessary.

2) The TY Calculus book. This seems to go beyond what I got in school, and actually bothers to explain why it works as it does, so should be interesting.

3) Possibly something on Geometry, where I'm weaker. Thinking of https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1852330589/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&psc=1.

4) Something on physics. This looks accessible. https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/University-Physics-Modern-Hugh-D-Young/1292100311/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1500542578&sr=1-1&keywords=physics+university#reader_1292100311

5) (Finally) back to astronomy. At the moment either Zeilik & Gregory Introductory astronomy and astrophysics  or Kutner, Astronomy: a physical perspective.

Any thoughts, especially on gaps? First thought is that the above is light on calculus and linear algebra, but I do have a couple of books on those (that turned out to be way above my current level) that I could press into service if needed.


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On ‎20‎/‎07‎/‎2017 at 10:31, billyharris72 said:


Any thoughts, especially on gaps? First thought is that the above is light on calculus and linear algebra, but I do have a couple of books on those (that turned out to be way above my current level) that I could press into service if needed.


Feynman's lectures I and II are excellent and relatively inexpensive. You get an insight into a great mind with a lot of interpretation of equations. Much maths is also covered in detail. You could also use these books to chart your way across physics buying various other maths books as required. Volumes I and II are a great reference. Volume II is worth buying just for the short section where Feynman explains his own way of linking special relativity with Maxwell's equations. Pure gold.

Schaum's outline series is excellent for both pure and applied maths. I just checked on abebooks . com and the excellent 'Vector Analysis' by Murray Spiegel can be had for less than a three quid as can 'Linear Algebra' by Seymour Lipschutz. Schaum's series has a great number of worked examples and might therefore be useful for home-study.

Good luck.

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  • 5 months later...

Ian Morrison of Gresham College? I collected what I could of his lectures. Wonderful guy who can leave some things open when they've not been shut (yet). The Feynman Lectures were (still?) the best-selling physics text for universities. Just finished Lisa Randall's (of "leaking gravity" "fame") "Warped Passages." Extremely meh...It was Timothy Ferris who baptized my imagination w/ his "Coming of Age in the Milky Way," and he set a high bar. I'm going for "The Black Hole War" by Lenny Susskind next, first cuz he's a plumber turned physicist, second cuz I like his mien (and lectures), and third b/c the Holographic Principle is THE standard cosmological model today, and how he prevailed vs. Hawking (even IF Hawking couldn't admit that and wh/ garnered him some hisses at the announcement of his loss). Figure in a holographic universe, we may as well already be in the matrix and I need my bearings.

And yes, for maths I recommend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. Speaking of which, didya hear the one about the mathmetician who was afraid to fly b/c he'd calculated the odds of there being a bomb on board? I heard it from Stephen Frye.

Edited by laowhoo
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