Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Theoretical Minimum, by Leonard Susskind

This book was a terrible disappointment because of missed expectations.   I'd expected it to be true to the book cover's description: "...for anyone who has ever regretted not taking physics in college...," "a first course in physics and associated math for the ardent amateur."   Against this measure of success, the book is a complete failure.

Personally, having studied both some math in school (through differential equations, anyway) and some physics (just two semesters though), I didn't get bored until about half way through the book.   But I was scratching my head way earlier than that about what would lead anyone, reviewer or book publisher, to imagine this is for amateurs.

For example, the discussion of introductory trigonometry, introducing radians, the sine, cosine and tangent, and their graphs, took two and a half pages, including diagrams.   I can not imagine that anyone who was new to these concepts could possibly follow the discussion from radians to graphs with any understanding -- because there was no such meaningful discussion.

For those who are more familiar with the math, the issue is more about motivation, or boredom.   There was far too little explanation of how things could be interesting rather than plodding through the equations.   Because there was no practical application or motivation of the work, whether it be partial differentiation or momentum, or far after I personally tuned out at the Gibbs-Liouville theorem, there was no reason to be interested much less excited.

A real dud.

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