Friday, February 22, 2013

February New Book Feature

You may have noticed that we have the February new books on display at the Physics Library.  There are quite a few interesting ones this month - I've featured three below.  Also be sure to check out the full list on the Physics Library Website and maybe stop by the library to browse and see what catches your eye!
Cover Art

Barger, V., Marfatia, D., & Whisnant, K. L. (2012). The physics of neutrinos. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

First of all, by our very own Vernon Barger, is the book the Physics of Neutrinos.  Stay tuned later this week!  We are launching a Local Author Interview Series and Vernon is our first participant.

Cover ArtWertheim, M. (2011). Physics on the fringe: Smoke rings, circlons, and alternative theories of everything. New York: Walker.

Physics on the Fringe by Margaret Wertheim follows the progress of amateur physicists and their theories, in particular Jim Carter and the interesting tools he uses to experiment with.  For more information, check out Freeman Dyson's review of the book in the New York Times or another review from the Wall Street Journal.  If this book sparks your interest in alternative physics, keep in mind the Physics Library has it's own collection of works of alternative physics held near the new book shelf.

Cover ArtLaFave, N. J. (2012). You want me to teach what?: Sure-fire methods for teaching physical science and math. Arlington, Va: National Science Teachers Association.

With an eye-catching cover, this book aims to teach teachers techniques to improve their upper level science and math instruction.  This book touches on the major pillars in science pedagogy, from student psychology, assessment, classroom management, and more.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

General Relativity YouTube Lectures

If you're interested in reading the Theoretical Minimum (reviewed by Thad Walker earlier this week), you might also want to check out the YouTube videos that inspired the book.  You can view the playlist on YouTube and work your way through the lectures.  If you are still craving more lectures by Susskind, there are lots of other courses posted on Stanford's YouTube channel.

The lectures are as long as you'd expect, but you can make yourself comfortable and no one will scold you for eating in class!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Review: The Theoretical Minimum

Susskind, L., & Hrabovsky, G. (2013). The theoretical minimum: What you need to know to start doing physics. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Last year I discovered a set of excellent YouTube video lectures on introductory general relativity, by the well-known Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind. In them Susskind works very hard to present the content of the theory while developing the necessary mathematics from scratch along the way. I greatly enjoyed watching many of these lectures. Later I discovered that these lectures are part of a long series of night-time lectures Susskind has given on many topics--classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, field theory, modern physics. The overall collection he terms the "Theoretical Minimum". Those interested in the history of physics recognize that phrase as coming from the Landau school; a student wish to pursue theoretical physics in Landau's institute was required to pass a set of rigorous examinations known as the "Theoretical Minimum".

Susskind's idea is to present a set of lectures that, if mastered, would in principle bring a student to the verge of being able to do serious physics research. Little if any mathematical preparation beyond calculus is assumed at the beginning, but by the end the lectures become fairly sophisticated. The lectures I have seen are quite nicely done, even if he does talk with his mouth full during a number of them…

Apparently the lectures are now going to be summarized in a set of books, the first of which is titled "The Theoretical Minimum". This first volume covers classical mechanics. The book starts off, as the GR lectures did, with nice descriptions using almost painfully basic mathematics. The first half of this book teaches integration and partial differentiation, for crying out loud! Halfway through I found myself thinking I'd wasted my money--I'd donate it to the physics library so Kerry wouldn't have to fork out for it from the physics library acquisitions budget. Then Lecture 6 came along, on the principle of least action, and suddenly it all became worthwhile. The rest of the book presents Lagrangian, Hamiltonian, and Poissonian versions of classical mechanics, with wonderful discussions of symmetry and plenty of allusions to quantum mechanics. Again, the mathematics is developed as needed, but in the end becomes fairly sophisticated. Beautifully done.

I'd recommend each and every 311/711 student to read this book. It would be a wonderful supplement to those courses. I'm hoping it doesn't take too long for Susskind and Hrabovsky to put out the subsequent volumes. I'd particularly like to have a quantum version for 448/9. 

By the way, Susskind's co-author, George Hrabovsky, is known to many of us around the UW Physics department. I'll leave it to our intrepid physics librarians to add an entry to the "Author Interviews" section of the blog revealing the details of how George came to co-author this book with Susskind.

Submitted by Thad Walker.

Copies of this book at UW-Madison Libraries

Friday, February 8, 2013


Today I'd like to share a new website with you all - yes, another book recommendation website. is new to the game, but there are number of things it does better than its competition.

Bookish strives to do it all.  Their slogan, "search. discover. read. share." captures the essence of Bookish's mission. Users search for their favorite books, prompting the discovery of new books based on reading preferences.  In addition to information and recommendations, Bookish publishes original articles related to literature and authors for users to read.  Finally, users are encouraged to share their new favorite books and articles with friends and family.

While there are other tools that provide similar functions (see this blog's post on NoveList), there are some features that make Bookish stand apart from the crowd.

I was very impressed with the "read a sample" option on some of the search results.  There is often no better way to know if you'll enjoy a book than reading the first chapter, and Bookish displays the text in an attractive box that is easy to read from and navigate around.  Bookish also gives you the opportunity to purchase the book in the format of your choice, often straight from the publisher.

One of my favorite features are the Bookish Essential Lists.  These are not ordinary readings lists based on genre - they are groupings of books that are more than casually related.  The lists are carefully curated to include books that have a similar subject and tone within in a genre - and in my experience really contain the best of the best.  For example, there isn't just one list of memoirs, there are many narrower lists under memoirs, like Serial Killers, Scientists, Mathematicians and Memoirs of Family Dysfunction.  My only complaint is that they are too hard to find!  Essential Lists are hidden about halfway down each subject page under the heading "best books".

You can read more about Bookish at the New York Times website.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Thank God for the Atom Bomb

Fussell, P. (1988). Thank God for the atom bomb, and other essays. New York: Summit Books.

Being your stereotypical culturally illiterate scientist, I had never heard of Paul Fussell until I saw a mini-obituary in the "The Lives They Lived"
( piece in the New York Times at the end of last year. He apparently was an influential critic and essayist, with a good sense of humor to boot. I checked out his book "Thank God for the Atom Bomb", I confess, not to read the title essay, but rather to check out the reprint of his 1987 GQ piece "Taking It All Off in the Balkans". That essay, which includes the memorable line "Clothes, you realize, have the effect of sausage casings", was indeed as fluffy a piece as you might expect from the title. It made for a nice change of pace from grading my ream of 448 take-home exams over Christmas break.

It turns out that the guy can write. "Thank God for the Atom Bomb" is a thoughtful, if provocative, perspective on the decision to use nuclear weapons in WWII. As a WWII vet himself, he has an interesting take on this issue, and is not shy about asserting the primacy of his perspective, being someone whose life was perhaps saved by the decision. I enjoyed an included rebuttal piece, and Fussell's reply, in which he points out that the guy objecting to Fussell's arguments was only 11 years old when the bomb was dropped.

Two essays on Orwell were also quite interesting, but the best piece, written decades ago (shortly after the attempted Reagan assassination, I think), is particularly timely given recent events and political dialog: "A Well-Regulated Militia" proposes that all gun owners be not only licensed but enrolled in the local (well-regulated) militia for regular duty.

All the pieces were both thought-provoking and humorous.

His first wife, Betty Fussell, wrote "Kitchen Wars", a frank confessional of life with a self-obsessed intellectual snob. Also funny and well-written, if kind of sad. How unhappy these people were.

Submitted by Thad Walker.