Rant About Textbooks by Griffiths

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Rant About Textbooks by Griffiths

Postby Quantum » Fri Dec 22, 2006 6:45 pm

Ok... I don't know about everyone else... but really do not like undergraduate textbooks written by David Griffiths. When I was an undergrad, I had courses that used "Intro to Electrodynamics" (for my E+M class) and "Intro to QM" (for my QM class) by Griffiths. I was not all that impressed.

First let me say that I think Griffiths is a highly intelligent person and definitely gifted in physics. However, my biggest complaint about his texts is that while he is aiming to write them for students learning the aforementioned subjects for the first (or second) time, he fails miserably. He provides little examples, most of which are just very basic, and then asks you to do problems that go far beyond those examples. Now don't get me wrong, taking things to the next level is highly important (and required if you expect to be successful in physics in any way), but I think it would be more appropriate to first give students practice at the elementary level rather than hitting them with more advanced problems. The advanced problems are highly important of course, but not until you have completely mastered the basic concepts.

In addition, Griffiths provides answers to only a few randomly picked exercises in the text, and no solutions to any of the problems. Unless you're sly enough to have a copy of the "Instructor's Solutions Manual", you will find it difficult to check your work and thus gauge your understanding of the material.

Also, Griffiths likes to leave a lot of the important results to be discovered in the exercises (mind you, the ones he provides few answers and no solutions to). Some people may think that is worthwhile, as you are forced to discover such entities on your own. But on the other hand, as an author, I think it is HIS job to present and illustrate at least MOST of the important results. Let's be realistic, no one is going to do EVERY problem in his book. And for reference purposes, when I wish to look up a significant result, I would like to have it handy. I don't want to have to solve problem 3.40 (for example) to get it.

I think the best part about Griffiths' books is the occasional humorisms he throws in every now and then. Other than that, I can't say much in favor of his texts. For QM, you'd be better off getting Shankar's "Principles of QM" even if you're an undergrad.

Well that is my opinion, and I realize everyone has their own tastes and preferences. I now use my old Griffiths texts as doorstops. =D

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Postby schmit.paul » Fri Dec 22, 2006 7:40 pm

I knew I'd seen this same post before:


seems like you've got some grudge against Griffiths...

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Postby rjharris » Fri Dec 22, 2006 9:32 pm

wow... almost a verbatim copy.

many math books leave important results left to the exercises, why can't physics books?

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Postby somebody » Fri Dec 22, 2006 9:40 pm

i dont have as much a problem with important results being left as practice as with the fact that there are no answers to the exercises. although it does force you to check units and make sure it makes physical sense so i guess its not so bad. but nothings more annoying than writing a solution which seems right and having it turn out to be wrong, especially if the other kids in you class are idiots and just copy your solution so you can't even compare your answers against there's.

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Postby Richter » Fri Dec 22, 2006 10:59 pm

But don't you think that the approach of Griffiths helps you to learn more independently? You can sort of rediscover the results in the exercise if you follow the book closely. If you are unsure of your answers, don't hesitate to buy or download the Instructor's manual.

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Postby schmit.paul » Sat Dec 23, 2006 2:49 am

I like Griffith's manner of teaching...I think even if he's teaching something using identical steps as another book, his clarity of speech and casual tone knocks down some potential mental barriers (no pun intended whatsoever) that may lead a person to believe initially that the topic is more complex than it actually is. However, in certain areas (such as his approach to time-dep perturbation theory and his mention of the interaction picture) he takes only one specific route to derive a concept in a particular case and then simply states that a more general form can be derived. I personally do not shy away from mathematical rigor, and the more general a derivation, the more confident I am with the application of the concept. Needless to say, my quantum prof deviated from the Griffiths' book when he felt it was necessary. I won't really know if learning from his book naturally handicaps a student compared to the national pool of physics students until I get to grad school, but I'm taking several graduate-level courses (including quantum theory, stat mech, string theory, and nuclear/particle physics) next semester to make sure I stay ahead of the curve the best I can, because I get the feeling that some other quantum texts/courses could have been a little more thorough and deep.

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Postby CPT » Sun Jan 21, 2007 7:03 am

I must say that I'm somewhat on the fence on this issue. While I reallly liked Griffith's EM book, the QM is somehow not upto the mark. This maybe a bias due to the fact that I saw the EM book much earlier at a lower level of mathematical maturity, than the QM book, but I think he sort of fudges things and leaves out a lot of important stuff in the QM book. I don't know why, but I seem to be the only one split in my opinion about the two books

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Postby Wanna Be Physicist » Thu Mar 08, 2007 12:31 pm

I really like the reading portion of the text, the problems however are quite annoying.

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