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The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics [Hardcover]

George Hrabovsky
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Jan 2013
In this unconventional and stimulating primer, world-class physicist Leonard Susskind and citizen-scientist George Hrabovsky combine forces to provide a brilliant first course in modern physics. Unlike most popular physics books - which give readers a taste of what physicists know but not what they actually do - Susskind and Hrabovsky teach the skills you need to do physics yourself. Combining crystal-clear explanations of the laws of the universe with basic exercises, the authors cover the minimum - the theoretical minimum of the title - that readers need to master in order to study more advanced topics. In a lucid, engaging style, they introduce all the key concepts, from classical mechanics to general relativity to quantum theory. Instead of shying away from the equations and maths that are essential to any understanding of physics, The Theoretical Minimum provides a toolkit that you won't find in any other popular science book.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (29 Jan 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1846147980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846147982
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


What a wonderful and unique resource. For anyone who is determined to learn physics for real, looking beyond conventional popularizations, this is the ideal place to start. It gets directly to the important points, with nuggets of deep insight scattered along the way. I'm going to be recommending this book right and left (Sean Carroll, physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe)

So what do you do if you enjoyed science at school or college but ended up with a different career and are still wondering what makes the universe tick? . . . The Theoretical Minimum is the book for you. In this neat little book the authors aim to provide the minimum amount of knowledge you need about classical physics . . . to gain some real understanding of the world . . . They do so with great success . . . Along the way you get beautifully clear explanations of famously 'difficult' things like differential and integral calculus, conservation laws and what physicists mean by symmetries (John Gribbin Wall Street Journal)

About the Author

Leonard Susskind has been the Felix Bloch Professor in Theoretical Physics at Stanford University since 1978. The author of The Black Hole War and The Cosmic Landscape, he lives in Palo Alto, California. He is widely considered to be one of the fathers of string theory.

George Hrabovsky is the president of Madison Area Science and Technology (MAST), a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific and technological research and education. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who is the target audience? 27 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It's difficult to see who this book is aimed at. I really enjoyed it and learnt a great deal, but then I've completed 3 years of undergraduate education in physics. Perhaps it would be best for a 1st year university level physicist, one who's completed a couple of courses in calculus, or perhaps a brave A-Level student.
I've deducted a star though, because the book is rife with errors. Just have a look at the errata at, it's huge. Spelling mistakes are fine but errors in equations can really lead you astray.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good -but 10 July 2013
By rosy44
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The material covered in this book is just right for those with a desire to re-acquaint themselves with the fundamentals. The reason I have marked it down is that it is poorly produced in terms of the printing. In this day and age it is simply not good enough not to be able to produce formulas in perfect form especially as this is of prime importance in a book containing quite a lot of mathematical expressions. I have also picked up a few mistakes which should have been detected in proof reading. My guess is that the book was produced cheaply and in a hurry.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you are into post-A-Level Physics it OK 16 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you've tried to watch Leonard Susskind's on-line lectures you will know its really difficult to follow along without his notes. Of course it all makes sense as he says it. But he writes on a succession of boards and then refers back. At that point, without the notes you can become lost.

I thought this book would be a proxy for the notes but one that can be read independently. And it is, and it has the material. The problem to watch out for is that an issue is laid out and the foundations prepared then an equation will appear which is supposed to explain everything but it doesn't. It's a step too far. It's like there's a missing link. So in this sense it is frustrating because then its necessary to go to another book or web site to find the connection.

It also presents problems but the solutions are not in the book. They are on-line in a PDF which you have to download and print out separately. Why?

This could be a great book. After some revisions it may well be but not at the moment. It's written by someone who is good at Physics, for whom this all makes sense. I think George is not able to see when the leaps he makes, which are just common sense to him, are a challenge for the person trying to gain that sense.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shame about the formulae 17 Mar 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having an undergraduate background in maths from 45 years ago I was very pleased with the way the book reminded me and updated my understanding of the subject but, and it's a big but, the formulae have been reproduced at such a small size that for example the dot representing a time derivative is a single pixel. This and all the formulae cannot be easily read except in a very good light or by using the back light at maximum. (To forestall some obvious remarks, my eyesight is quite a lot better than standard and has been recently tested.) Some of the material requires concentration and puzzling over exactly which symbol has been used is a considerable distraction. Enlarging the font makes no difference, presumably because the formulae have been reproduced as images. I have not found any which could not have been reproduced at twice the size without upsetting the page layout. This is such a problem that I was tempted to assign two stars.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read along with the video lectures 2 Nov 2013
The book begins with a simple explanation of spaces of states and systems, laying the groundwork for understanding basic concepts in physics. The opening chapter, called "The Nature of Classical Physics" takes us behind the scenes, to a law that governs neither matter nor energy but information - namely, the law of conservation of information.

From the next chapter, the book turns more mathematical. The nice thing is that the basic vector analysis, trigonometry and calculus needed for physics are introduced. However, although the book aims to help readers who are prepared to do more math than what most of the currently available body of popular physics literature involves, it may have gone too far and used much more math than required to explain physical concepts, and in the process lost some of the clarity one expects from science books.

There is also some confusion in the notations used in the book that may throw the uninitiated reader off-track. The subscript "i" is at first associated with the x, y, and z coordinates of a single particle. For example on page 39: "The three coordinates x, y, z are collectively denoted by x_i..." Later on, however, the same subscript "i" is used to identify a particle amongst several particles, rather than the coordinates. For example on page 87: "In this set of equations.....the force on the `i th' particle..." On page 91 the confusion is even greater since the two different meanings of "i" are used one after the other on the same page. On that page the equation for momentum of the "i th" particle is "p_i = m_i v_i", while the phase space is given by "x_i, p_i" where "i" refers to the x, y, z coordinates of a single particle.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not thorough enough 10 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A PhD in Applied mathematics and a distinction in my chemistry degree for my quantum mechanics paper did not enable me to follow clearly the derivation of the least action principle, why it was relevant (other than an assertion that it was) and how Lagrange's equation was derived. Even knowing how to do it myself did not enable me to follow the reasoning employed on pages 112 and 113. A simple series of steps, explaining the underlying mathematics aids reasoning and insight like nothing else. Give it a try guys, your book sales will go stellar.

This last aspect (of Lagrangian mechanics) is crucial for understanding how Newtonian mechanics works and the derivation of the equation jumps in first and starts. I would not recommend this book for the novice to Lagrangian mechanics (which really is quite simple if well explained).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Errors galore.
Be aware that the Kindle download is an older edition with lots of errors that don't appear in the sample copy -- weird. Read more
Published 1 month ago by GeeBee
4.0 out of 5 stars original approach but ...
original, refreshing and excellent approach of the subject, most of the time very clear explained but .... here and there some annoying (typing ?) errors.
Published 3 months ago by Marc
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good refresher on college physics
This book is unique in my experience. It is not a college textbook yet it covers most of the key topics in mathematical physics at undergraduate level. Read more
Published 4 months ago by tonydunn
5.0 out of 5 stars gives you what you expected
good exposure not too much and interesting to read, recommended to everyone also the more advanced reader happy to possess the book
Published 6 months ago by B. Israel
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book ruined by the Kindle - get a second hand iPad 2.
This book is, for me, almost unreadable on the Kindle Fire HDX because the illustrations and equations are tiny and do not scale with the text.. Read more
Published 6 months ago by D. Green
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
This is a fantastic exposition of classical mechanics, starting with the basics of newtons laws it reformulates the equations several times in terms of Lagrangians, Hamiltonians... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mr. Mark Hodges
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Physics book ever. No question.
I have read, or tried to read, many physics books at all levels. This is simply the best.
It is a distillation of Prof. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mr. Anthony J. Bentley
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going
Very difficult read, needed to keep going back over several sections, this is down to my own ignorance. Will keep going until I master it.
Published 14 months ago by MR B HALL
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