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Classical Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum

(Theoretical Minimum)

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,886 ratings  ·  173 reviews
A Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2013

A world-class physicist and a citizen scientist combine forces to teach Physics 101—the DIY way

The Theoretical Minimum is a book for anyone who has ever regretted not taking physics in college—or who simply wants to know how to think like a physicist. In this unconventional introduction, physicist Leonard Susskind and hacker-scientist
Paperback, 238 pages
Published February 25th 2014 by Penguin (first published 2013)
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Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who really wants to understand physics
Of Mice and Men and Generalized Conjugate Momenta

They had been walking down the road since daybreak, but now the sun was high enough in the sky that it was starting to get hot, and they were pleased to see the little creek. They stopped and drank some water and splashed some more on their faces. Suddenly, Lenny looked at his friend.

"George," he said, "there's somethin' I gotta ask you. Why-- why're we here?"

George smiled. "Well," he said. "You know I don't hold with all that church talk. It jest
Manuel Antão
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Action/dx = d/dt(dLagrangian/dv)-dLagrangian/dx = 0: “The Theoretical Minimum - What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics” by Leonard Susskind, George Hrabovsky

Math is just a skill, like any other and not everyone can do it. What gets my goat is the "anyone can do anything if only they try hard enough "attitude. No, they can't. Some people are good at certain skills and not other, and others have different skills. I happen to be goo
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, physics
As someone squarely in the target audience for this book I found it to be right on the money. The audience is those who find themselves wishing popular physics books could be a little more technical at times. And, being technical means including the mathematics and the unifying concepts behind the theories. This book, and the online lectures it is a companion to, delivers on that count.

In order to get the most out of it you need to bring with you: some exposure to calculus (even if you are very
Roy Lotz
I’ve heard people wonder aloud (insofar as writing comments on the internet can be considered “aloud”) whether a layperson could understand this book. Well, take it from me, a certified layman, that it can be done; it is difficult, but doable.

Before the review, some advice. This book pushes forward quickly; the reader, especially the struggling reader, will be left far behind if she isn’t careful and thorough. The beginning lectures, up until about the middle of the book, I found fairly easy;
Sanjay Gautam
Apr 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Damn, it was beautiful.
John Gribbin
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Are you one of those people who enjoyed science at school or college, but ended up with a different career, still wondering what makes the Universe tick? Maybe you subscribe to Scientific American, follow news stories about black holes, and read reviews of science books in WSJ without quite finding enough meat to satisfy you. If so, The Theoretical Minimum is the book for you. The subtitle “what you need to know to start doing physics” sets out the authors’ stall, and the “minimum” referred to i
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book.
- Perfect level of detail: the book provides an accurate and elegant quantitative description of advanced classical mechanics based on the actual mathematics, but without being bogged down into un-necessary detail.
- The authors provide a rigorous mathematical treatment of the subject, but they manage, always, to beautifully highlight the elegance of the main concepts: for example, they make the reader thoroughly appreciate the beauty of the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian appro
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics, maths
This book is useful if you want to refresh the pre-existing knowledge but it is not an effective learning tool for “anyone who has ever regretted not taking physics at college”. Namely, this is not the book for someone who wants to learn from scratch.
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, mathematics
In physics, I have found the word “classical” to be relative. While the entire content of this book is classical mechanics, that would mean everything before quantum mechanics and relativity. What I previously thought of as classical mechanics was what I had learned in engineering school many years ago - as done with that sort of calculus devised by Leibniz and Newton. However, that is preparatory, and before quantum mechanics, there is a necessary recasting of physical principles into Lagrangia ...more
Mark Hebwood
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent. This is pitched at a readership who are clearly not academic physicists, but are beginning to feel frustrated with the endless metaphors and non-mathematical explanations you find in most pop-science books. I had great fun reading it, doing the exercises, and looking for additional material in the form of internet lectures or MOOCs.

I would recommend this book to anybody who wishes to develop (or rediscover) an in-depth understanding of classical mechanics. I do think, however, that fl
Jack Laschenski
Despite my education, far beyond my ken.

However, the book has caused me to start studying calculus again at the Khan Academy!!
Nov 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
While physics does indeed boil down to these basics, the reader needs to come into this book with both a serious physics background and multiple semesters of calculus (partial derivatives, differential equations).
Ch 1 does Simple Dynamical Systems and the Space of States. (I think the word 'simple' simply appears too many times in this book). Ch 1 has a math Interlude to quickly review/teach Spaces, Trigonometry and Vectors (vector notation, add/sub, lengths in 3-d, dot product).
Ch 2 does moti
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I've wanted for a long time. Being many years out of college, and having forgotten everything I once knew about theoretical physics (which, sadly, was not nearly as much as I thought I knew), I have been looking for a way to refresh my knowledge. This little book is that way.

It's intended for people who have some mathematical background, and it is definitely not easy going, despite the lighthearted style of the book. You really do need to do the exercises, and it helps to watch th
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An easy guide to learn classical mechanics

This is one of the best books to learn the math behind classical physics. Written beautifully by Stanford University Professor Lenny Susskind, and George Hrabovsky, it provides strong introduction to classical dynamics/Newtonian physics for college-level students of physics, chemistry, engineering, philosophy, and others interested in understanding the physical reality.

This book begins at the simplest level. It develops the basics and reinforces fundame
Jose Moa
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics, science
A grat popularization science book that with the mathematics of high school level that are explained in the first half of the book,and the notions of partial derivatives , diferential operators and stationary points in a two variable function is able of the incredible achievemet,after a brief discussion on newtonian mechanics,of give a serious introduction and fundaments of advanced lagrangian and hamiltonian mechanics.

Begins by proving by a original discrete method the deduction of Lagrange equ
Myat Thura Aung
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a condensed version of the Standford lectures on classical mechanics by Leonard Susskind. (The videos are available on Youtube.) It offers you the minimal theoretical knowledge to advance to the next step, quantum mechanics. If you are dissatisfied with what most pop science books are offering you but can't afford time and energy to read fat textbooks, then this is definitely for you. It might be quite challenging if you're not so familiar with math. But if you really wanna get seri ...more
Murray Cumming
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I had read this at 18 it would have driven me to continue studying mathematics and physics. Instead I had no idea what might come next. All this time I've been oblivious to the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian (deep abstractions that apply to all physical laws including quantum mechanics), and had never heard of the vector potential (gauge fields). This book isn't perfect but I'm grateful to the authors for enlightening me. Maybe there are better books that cover the same stuff and maybe I'll find ...more
Douglas Ross
Jan 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let's be clear, I will never be able to "do" Physics at anything even remotely approaching Susskind's level. But, what I loved about this book are the little nuggets of common sense interspersed in the mathematics that help (me at least) understand Physics better conceptually. The book reminded me of the good fortune I had in the 1960's to be introduced to Physics by Dr. Robert Packard, the much beloved Physics professor at Baylor University for over fifty years. Dr. Packard taught us that the r ...more
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes! This book is awesome. I borrowed it from the library, but I believe I will buy a hardcopy and get the next one on QM as soon as it comes out late this month. The Theoretical Minimum has elegantly overviewed the basics of classical mechanics, through a focus on the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian, equations of motion, symmetries, in a way that is clearly preparatory for QM. I have a new appreciation for how many concepts tie together in a way that were left un-unified before.

That being said, this
Jun 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book for the physics "enthusiast." It runs through some pretty hefty mathematical mechanics in pretty short order, but does a decent job of that. Most of the time I was reading I was thinking "gee, I remember being able to do that at one time," and "oh yeah, I remember learning about that." I wish they had provided solutions to the exercises they gave in each chapter, if only to verify you actually did understand how it works. It's short on explanation and the bigger picture, but f ...more
Santiago Ortiz
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book to be read in 4 days (I read this book in 4 days).
Robert Hare
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly eye-opening. I’ve taken quite a few physics classes, but this book single-handedly taught me more about classical mechanics than any class I’ve ever taken. If this is what you’re into, I would definitely recommend it.
William Schram
Before we begin, here's a bit of background on my mathematical education. I have taken math up to Calculus II and got a pretty good grade, but I never went further then that. Thus, when someone starts mentioning Lagrangians and Hamiltonians, and the Principle of Least Action, Curls, Grads and all of that my eyes begin to glaze over. That didn't happen with this book, and I will attempt to explain why.

In the Preface to the book, Professor Susskind talks about how he felt an itch to help people ge
Jul 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: lib, science
Hard to tell exactly what this book is for. Maybe an aide-memoire for people who know this stuff already or as notes to Prof. Susskind's excellent lecture series (available on YouTube). What it is not is a book which you are going to learn much from scratch. I have a strong maths background and found much of the mathematics terse to the point of obscurity, the scattering of exercises without any answers just adding to the sense of confusion. There are dozens of textbooks around on classical mech ...more
Angie Reisetter
Dec 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-related
An elegant, well-written book. In the first 50 pages or so, Susskind introduces integral and differential calculus, as well as multi-variable calculus, so that he can conduct his discussion of classical mechanics on a high level, so that its beauty and simplicity is clear. I really appreciate this approach.

What baffles me is that this was a NYT bestseller. Who's reading this? The introduction to calculus is cursory -- I imagine it serves best as a review for those who have seen it before. And th
Tom Schulte
...This work presents classical mechanics including conservation laws, Hamiltonian mechanics, and planetary orbits. Such focus is appropriate for a book under two hundred fifty pages. There are little to no mentions of relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory. This allows room for the clear description of advanced classical physics concepts. Somewhat surprising, the authors also use that room for the breezy and humorous. I challenge anyone to show me a book that can skip from a groaner j ...more
Chase Lindemann
As a recent graduate of high school (and prospective physics major), I initially picked up this book so I could read his second installation on quantum mechanics. I'm usually one to give a lenient grade to most books, but I was slightly harsher on this one. After discussing the book with my MIT-graduate, high school physics teacher, I understood why I gave this book four stars. I applaud the efforts of Susskind to tackle such a heavy subject, however, I believe he needs to change the title. He g ...more
João Ritto
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books for non-physicists on the subject may vary in style but typically have one thing in common: they skip the math. This is precisely what this book tries to make up for. In a few hundred pages the authors attempt to give an introduction of physics for a lay reader not sparing the use of equations.

If your field is not physics but you are relatively comfortable with calculus (my field is economics, for example, and I could skip most of the mathematical appendices), this book may give you some u
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Susskind is great at taking very difficult topics and making them manageable. In his first book of his the Theoretical Minimum series he tackles the central idea and more importantly equations of physics and breaks them down. The first book of the series is Classical mechanics after a short mathematical introduction to Calculus, Trig and vectors, we are introduced the ideas of Classical Physics. We cover derivations of energy, momentum,velocity, acceleration, force and so on. Then we are introdu ...more
Guillaume Belanger
Interesting, but I would never qualify the book as accessible. I studied Physics in my first degree. Then did a masters in Particle Physics, and then a PhD in high energy Astrophysics, and there are things in there that I had never encountered. So, just to say, I liked it because it was a nice review of things I studies a long time ago, but I can't imagine anyone without a technical background reading this book and understanding much. In addition, I found some of the "simple" explanations confus ...more
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Leonard Susskind is the Felix Bloch Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stanford University. His research interests include string theory, quantum field theory, quantum statistical mechanics and quantum cosmology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an associate member of the faculty of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Phys ...more

Other books in the series

Theoretical Minimum (3 books)
  • Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum (Theoretical Minimum #2)
  • Special Relativity and Classical Field Theory: The Theoretical Minimum

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“If a system is chaotic (most are), then it implies that however good the resolving power may be, the time over which the system is predictable is limited. Perfect predictability is not achievable, simply because we are limited in our resolving power.” 1 likes
“In most cases the tiniest differences in the initial conditions—the starting state—leads to large eventual differences in outcomes. This phenomenon is called chaos. If a system is chaotic (most are), then it implies that however good the resolving power may be, the time over which the system is predictable is limited.” 0 likes
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