25 October 2009

For the love of physics, will someone burn that book?

I am considering selling some of my textbooks from college, so I did a little research on how to go about it and what my books might fetch.

Guess what I found out?

They aren't very valuable, if they have resale potential at all.

On an extremely positive note, however, textbooks are now being reviewed. (Another "Huzzah!" for the internet - and technology in general.) And guess what? My nightmare-inducing, "we-will-use-this-textbook-no-matter-how-much-you-protest" Mathematical Methods for Physicists is lambasted in the reviews. Hah! [Yes, yes, I was a physics major as an undergraduate. I also majored in psychology, if that appeases. Probably not.]


The "Methods" book was the bane of my emotional life as a physics major. I would literally cry over my papers when I reached page 8 of a proof only to find out that a) no answers were provided in the book and 2) I had made an error "somewhere along the line" and needed to "rework the entire problem", according to the helpful-but-equally-unnerved grad assistant. To rub salt in the proverbial wound, about half-way through the semester, we found out (from a friend-of-a-friend at another university) that there was more than one way to skin Schrodinger's cat. And our book didn't mention it.

Yet we were compelled to use it: it was co-authored by the illustrious Professor Emeritus, who popped-in from time-to-time to lecture, and edited by a current professor, who was the instructor. While an honor to study with the source, I kept thinking: "Couldn't we just have him to tea once a week?" and "Isn't the lecture series dedicated to and named for him?" and "Could he possibly stop smiling at us as if this is all very amusing?" Eventually we students concluded (and had confirmed) that the book was written for the authors as a challenge to themselves and for other 'practising theoretical physicists' as a reference encyclopaedia. Indeed. At least we knew the truth. And the book served its purpose for our puerile, undergraduate minds as well; it was an impetus to drink.

One of the online reviews ends with this: "
If ((this book)) is going to be your first introductory text to these topics and if you are not supported by very good lectures I can only say that may God have mercy on your soul."

He did mine: my course load the following year was in French, genetics, religion, and Shakespeare. I did finish the "Methods" class, though; and throughout the second semester, I was better prepared for the long hours of homework that would inevitably dissolve into a bedtime routine of washing the streaks of tears from my face and falling into bed exhausted. And, after (mumbles incoherently) years, discovering these reviews reminds me that we weren't alone in our frustration. In fact, the reviews just might put an end to my recurring nightmares of forgetting how to solve the Taylor expansion, showing up to class unprepared for an exam, and walking up to turn it in only to discover that I am stark naked. And not with my 'pre-babies' body.


In reality, it was torture. But I now know that the professors were putting us through our paces, hoping to leave us with an appreciation for the material and a sense of accomplishment. We were taught with enthusiasm about the subject we all loved, an infectious trait that rarely escaped me and always kept me coming back to class. Most importantly, though, they were kind: they always graded on a curve and a 24/100 was an 'A'.

PS: Obviously, I still have the book. But now I have these comforting words, too: "...this book is truly quite poor. Oh, it certainly looks very boss on one's shelf, and those tastefully formatted integral equations bursting with funny symbols and Greek letters really turn the grandchildren's heads. But this book is utterly useless for teaching mathematics. ... Relegate ((this book)) to doorstop duty: it will perform admirably."

Today's conundrum: If Schrodinger's cat climbs a tree in the woods, does anyone care? And why isn't it in its box?

Future conundrum: Who wrote the book of love?

Thanks for perusing this blog; blog you again soon!

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