The Best University Physics Textbooks for Beginning Students

This page reviews the best university level physics textbooks for beginning science and engineering students.

Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Raymond A. Serway, John W. Jewett

Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics, Serway, Jewett

This is a standard calculus based physics textbook and the basic reference for freshmen courses. Serway and Jewett present a wide range of examples, illustrations, quick quizzes, and exercises that should help you grasp the basic laws of physics, and prepare you for further studies in science and engineering.

However, you should have a good high school physics and calculus background, or prepare to be frustrated when applying the concepts from the text to the problems at the end of chapters. Physics is all about solving practical problems, so lots of useful information should be included in the examples. Alas, the examples usually skip some of the necessary steps and details in solving a problem, and formulas are sometimes out of thin air. I think that the first part of the book (mechanics) is more instructive, but the later topics (thermodynamics, quantum physics) are a complete nightmare.

You will probably buy this book only if it is a required reading. If so, be sure to sign up for tutoring sessions, or get a supplementary textbook.

Final rating: (2)


Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Douglas C. Giancoli

Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics, Giancoli

A comprehensive textbook for scientists and engineers who are interested in an introduction to the basics of physics. The new 2008 edition features MasteringPhysics, an instructor-assigned homework system. The book emphasizes the development of problem solving skills, there is little theory.

The text is an unexpectedly easy read, written in a colloquial style. Each chapter starts with a page or two of the introductory theory and then immediately gets into the examples. The problems are difficult, you should have a solid foundation in calculus or a good instructor. Modern physics, again, is a weaker point of the book: here you could feel a little lost and search for other books on that topics. Or, it might be that "the quantum stuff" is difficult in itself.

The new edition ("Modern Physics" is a part of the title) is followed by a suite of DVDs and online resources. If you are ready for a hard work, and you can actually learn from worked-out problems trying to solve them yourself, this book is for you.

Final rating: (3)


Fundamentals of Physics by David Halliday, Robert Resnick, Jearl Walker

Fundamentals of Physics Extended, Halliday, Resnick, Walker

Fundamentals of Physics is a successful textbook, which offers a solid understanding of all major aspects of physics. It is written in an easy style, with clear examples and explanations (most of the time). The book has a very good CD software companion.

The book discusses thoroughly all of the standard areas and doesn't include some very specialized topics. The authors don't force the reader to memorize formulas, they rather spend time making sure the student understands the material adequately. The material is suitable for a self-study, if you miss a lecture, you should be able to still do the assigned problems on your own. The "Extended" edition contains two chapters on modern physics (quantum and cosmology) left out in other editions. Finally: some of the problems are very challenging, the textbook does not give every time a fully-worked solution for examples.

This is an easy and enjoyable reading in the university introductory level physics, suitable even for the interested general reader. It is an adequate study and reference book if you have little background in physics and calculus. But if you need a deeper level of understanding . . . read the text below.

Final rating: (4)


University Physics with Modern Physics by Hugh D. Young, Roger A. Freedman

University Physics with Modern Physics, Young, Freedman

University Physics might be the most widely adopted freshman physics text available. The new edition introduces a new problem-solving strategy to help students develop the physical intuition and skills needed to solve the extensive sets of high-quality problems.

The main strength of the book are its straightforward and clear explanations of all covered topics, and the very well-done diagrams, illustrations, and photos, which help readers better visualize key concepts. The text contains a large number of instructive and clearly explained numerical examples, making the book very easy to self-study. The authors took the time to make clear not only "how to do it", but also "why to do it like this". Whenever possible, they show more than one way you can solve the same problem, and different aspects of the same concept.

If you need both a good textbook and reference work for general physics, University Physics is the best choice. Or, if you are simply a science lover or a a physics enthusiast, find some time and devote it just to reading: you will enjoy every page of this book.

Final rating: (5)

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