The Theoretical Minimum
February 27, 2014 1:26 AM   Subscribe

How condensed might one expect an overview of all modern physics to be? Leonard Susskind has an answer, and provides The Theoretical Minimum.

Although discussed before, the entire lecture series has since been updated, and wrapped up in its own website with a whole bunch of extra content. It also now comes in book form.

So far I've worked through the series on classical mechanics and I can say that it's very, very, good. The lecture series is provided as a series of Stanford continuing studies courses, and so a certain level of education is assumed. That being said, he does review most of the mathematics, if in a fairly loose way. I would imagine it possible to get through a lot of this material with only basic calculus. Have fun!
posted by Alex404 (13 comments total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
This may be a stupid question because I am merely an armchair physics enthusiast, but: How does the intended purpose of this series relate to the Feynman Lectures on Physics? Or Landau and Lifshitz's Course of Theoretical Physics, which as far as I understand is also intended to be an extremely condensed presentation of all(?) of theoretical physics?
posted by narain at 2:06 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

narain, some of these cover substantially more advanced (and modern) topics than the Feynman lectures. The name is actually a nod to Landau's "Theoretical Minimum," an extraordinarily difficult exam that his students were expected to pass before conducting research. (And though Landau & Lifshitz is a much beloved text, I would not really recommend it to even the serious amateur as a way of encountering these subjects for the first time.) Looks like a fantastic resource -- thanks!
posted by chalkbored at 3:30 AM on February 27, 2014

I've recently worked through the Theoretical Mechanics book and found it an incredibly enjoyable experience. I studied physics in university, but dropped out; the way it was taught was very alien to my way of thinking. I like to think I'd kept going had Susskind been around to teach me.
posted by dhoe at 4:20 AM on February 27, 2014

Thanks, chalkbored! I haven't got around to going through the Feynman Lectures, but I did love the first volume of Landau & Lifshitz -- though it's kind of like a diamond: highly compressed, brilliant, and very very hard. I've added The Theoretical Minimum to my to-read list too, based on your and dhoe's recommendation.
posted by narain at 4:32 AM on February 27, 2014

Hey, I just got the quantum mechanics book! Looks cool. Another interesting fact -- it's the first book I've seen from a major New York trade press that's typeset by the authors in straight LaTex. (The editor of the book told me it's actually the fourth book in LaTeX they've done..!)
posted by escabeche at 4:38 AM on February 27, 2014

This is good.
posted by flabdablet at 4:38 AM on February 27, 2014

I've watched most of these videos. He basically covers all of modern physics, and not in a pop-science way. He starts with classical mechanics and works all the way up to cosmology and down to the standard model and string theory and quantum mechanics. And uses all of the math from actions in classical mechanics, matrices and operators in quantum mechanics, group theory in the standard model, tensors and space curvature in general relativity, and so on.

At a minimum, to follow it, you'll need a strong background of multi-variable calculus and linear algebra.

I would actually recommend starting with Walter Llewens MIT classes on classical physics, waves and electromagnetism before getting into this. They're a lot more fun to watch and much slower paced and should give you a solid foundation.
posted by empath at 6:31 AM on February 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

Hunh, I might just commit to watching most of these videos.
posted by Theta States at 8:10 AM on February 27, 2014

Susskind is awesome.
posted by sfts2 at 8:28 AM on February 27, 2014

Fantastic. I've got surgery coming up and need something to entertain me during recovery!
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:01 AM on February 27, 2014

Welp, I just found out what I'll be working through this summer. Thank you!
posted by seyirci at 9:38 AM on February 27, 2014

I'm confused. The web pages list more courses than textbooks. Are the lectures intended to be fully self-contained? Are there any suggested exercises or practice problems?
posted by polymodus at 11:18 PM on February 27, 2014

Are there any suggested exercises or practice problems?

Yeah, this is where its different from a 'real' course. This isn't training to be a physicist. This as minimal an overview as you can get of modern physics without skimping and simplifying. It's basically for people who are very interested in physics and aren't afraid of equations, but don't necessarily want to do it for a living. He runs through the proofs, using all the math, then he's on to the next topic.

I found them to be really useful for understanding science papers I read online, but I'm not under any illusion that I could work out the math myself if it came down to it.
posted by empath at 7:01 AM on February 28, 2014

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