on 1 September 2007
French pulls off what I once thought impossible: to offer an engaging, challenging and lively read on Newtonian mechanics. What is often considered the most dry topic in physics is brought to life here by French's skillful interweaving of mathematical sophistication, intuitive explanation and history of science. What I particularly appreciate is that, unlike most modern textbooks, this book is not written as if intended for teenagers with attention deficit snydrome. French assumes that the reader is someone who is interested in mechanics and willing to invest time and effort to understand the subject, and so one will not find any watered down explanations or lamentations that certain ideas are beyond the scope of the text. The questions at the end of each chapter are of mixed value. While they are all carefully constructed to test the readers intution rather than just an ability to plug numbers into equations, some will refer to quantities and concepts that were not covered in the main text of the book, and are therefore of little use to anyone who does not wish to reference back to other texts/websites (though these questions are definitely in the minority).
The biggest problem I have with the book is the dreadful print quality. The headings on each page that reference the respective chapter and subsection are practically illegible, and the diagrams are printed in faint grey on a faint grey background meaning that half the time one has to guess which symbols mentioned in the text correspond to which elusive silhouttes in the diagram. I was unsure whether or not deduct a star for this since it does not substantively affect the actual quality of the text, but the printing is so bad that it actually reduces the amount that can be learned from it. All in all this is the best book on mechanics I have come across, but try to obtain a different print edition.
on 11 November 2011
As I have commented before in my review of A. P. French's Special Relativity this book, Newtonian Mechanics, by the same author is too long and verbose. Now I am not saying that it isn't a good book because it is. It is very comprehensive and given how large a subject matter Newtonian mechanics is one would expect the book to be of a corresponding size. But . . .
. . . it is just too wordy, and this means that it is more difficult than it needs to be to find what you are looking for quickly. In fact the book would possibly have benefited from being broken into two sections one concise and the other lengthier and with more detailed explanation. Now I know it may just be my viewpoint and one not shared by others but I find that when tackling a new subject for the first time a student - or anyone enthusiastic enough to take time to study - does not want to be bogged down reading when what they really need is the basic information and techniques. Yes, I know they will need detailed explanations but sometimes the need will be less than at other times. This book just doesn't really offer that option. It is a long slog that feels at times more like a search for the important stuff.
Having said the above I would recommend this book for it's comprehensiveness but with the caveat that it may just be a bit too much like hard work for some.
on 25 April 2006
In common with French's other titles in the MIT introductory series, Newtonian Mechanics provides a comprehensive and salient discourse on the subject at hand. It should be noted, however, that its format does not lend itself to being a quick reference on the subject; unlike some physics texts (particularly at a lower level) it is heavy on prose and is devoid of colour, box-outs, 'key points', etc. (although there are plenty of figures and illustrations). The chapters are intended to be read from start to finish; dipping into the text here and there tends to require significant back-tracking to understand the frequent references to previous material. If you are interested in Mechanics merely as an applied mathematic other books may be more appropriate.
Newtonian Mechanics excels as specialist physics text (i.e. if your interest is more than just one of application). It provides a very firm grounding in concepts that, though familiar, comprise a great deal of subtilty and potential for misconception. It also provides the reader with an essential sense of the origins of mechanics as an emprically derived physically theory; something that is perhaps lost from contemporary teaching now that newtonian mechanics is so established in the scientific paradigm. This alone makes it a valuable read.
Personally, the book has reinvigorated mechanics for me as an important part of physics and not a dull dead one; in fact the ideas of experimentation leading to the development of the theory of motion presented in this book (as it is done with great precision and attention to detail) seem to be the encompass essence of physics. It as also sharped my understanding of the concepts that were taught to me in secondary school but seemed somehow circular or handwaving. An example is the good discussion the book offers on inertial frames, the law of inertia, and the seemingly circular requirement that Newton's laws may only be applied in an inertial reference frame, and an inertial reference frame is one where Newton's laws apply. Here French explains that this requirement is an precept of mechanics that underpins the biconditional relationship between a body accelerating and a force acting on it.
All the key topics are covered in solid mathematical detail: The particle universe, Space, time, and motion, accelerated motion, forces and equilibrium, natural forces, inertia, newton's Law, gravitation, collisions and conservation, energy conservation in dynamics and vibrational motion, conservative forces, non-inertial frames, central force fields, and extended systems (e.g. the gyroscope) and rotational dynamics.
Reading and understanding this book will provide you with firm grasp of mechanics.