Customer Review

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dummies Need Not Apply, 4 Mar 2013
This review is from: The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics (Hardcover)
Up front, I want to acknowledge that throughout school and college, my lowest grades were in mathematics and natural science courses and I passed the last one I took only because I promised the instructor I would never take another. However, I had heard raves from non-scientists about Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky's book and now I understand why so many others think so highly of it.

First, for non-scientists such as I, this is what the book is NOT: easy to read and understand, dumbed down/watered down/etc., condescending, riveting or boring. Susskind and Hrabovsky introduce and correlate material in incremental, almost layered fashion so that (like LEGOS), items of information are carefully connected and combined to increase the reader's understanding. I found the pace of this progression from Lecture 1 until Lecture 11 somewhat brisk at times but somehow I managed to keep up and, of course, could always re-read one of the three "Interludes" or an earlier passage in a Lecture that I highlighted in anticipation of confusion later.

Susskind and Hrabovsky include several dozen "Exercises" within the narrative. I strongly recommend having a notebook near at hand in which to complete them. (Note: The Mead Black Marble Wide-Ruled Composition Book is my personal preference.) I also strongly recommend adding Appendix 2 in which the authors explain how best to formulate correct responses to the exercises...also [begin italics] why [end italics]. Readers will appreciate the direct and personal, conversational rapport that Susskind and Hrabovsky establish and then sustain. Reading the book was not an easy "journey" for me to complete and therefore I appreciated having these knowledgeable and patient mentors as my companions.

Consider this passage in Interlude 2, Page 55:

"There are some tricks to doing integrals. One trick is to look them up in a table of integrals. Another is to learn to use Mathematica. But if you're on your own and you don't recognize the integral, the oldest trick in the book is integration by parts."

The words are in English but might just as well have been in Mandarin or Welsh. Only after re-reading several passages did I finally "get it." More than a century ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes insisted that he would "give his life for simplicity on the other side of complexity." Time and again as worked my way through this book, I remembered that statement and now believe that the theoretical minimum is to be found there.

I cannot claim that I fully understand, much less appreciate all of the material that Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky provide but I do think the book has increased substantially my understanding of how to start doing physics. I have not as yet decided if I will proceed further. My next step is to re-read the passages I have highlighted and, in a month or two, take another shot at the exercises.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Mar 2013 08:03:12 GMT
Last edited by the author on 5 Mar 2013 08:22:55 GMT
Reading this book is a kind of struggle. It was not designed to be read passively. If you do the exercices and work out the concepts, the reward is much higher than when reading a regular popular science book.

The following link may be useful to understand the derivation of some equations:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylor_series
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_derivative

The next book is likely to be about quantum mechanics. Richard Feynman said "Nobody understands quantum mechanics". He's probably right but the Susskind/Hrabovsky book will have prepared you netherless by familiarising the reader to theoretical reasoning and introducing objects to be manipulated (hamiltonians, Poisson brackets that will lead to commutators).

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Mar 2013 11:29:43 GMT
Thank you for your comments. You have expressed so much better than I can the tutorial relationship between Susskind and Hrabovsky and readers such as I. They do not make the material easier; rather, they improve our skills so that we understand it better than we otherwise could. I am again reminded that all great teachers are great explainers.
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Robert Morris
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Location: Dallas, Texas

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