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Best books for mathematical background?

+ 14 like - 0 dislike
5526 views

What are the best textbooks to read for the mathematical background you need for modern physics, such as, string theory?

Some subjects off the top of my head that probably need covering:

  • Differential geometry, Manifolds, etc.
  • Lie groups, Lie algebras and their representation theory.
  • Algebraic topology.


This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user ahh

asked Nov 4, 2010 in Resources and References by ahh (0 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized May 4, 2014 by dimension10

13 Answers

+ 8 like - 0 dislike

The last book I read on "background in math for physicists" was "Mathematics for Physics" by Stone and Goldbart, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. (Since then I've tended to hit the pure math books, but that's a different story).

Even better, a version of the book is available online at Paul Goldbart's webpage.

Here's a list of topics:

* Calculus of Variations
* Function Spaces
* Linear Ordinary Differential Equations
* Linear Differential Operators
* Green Functions
* Partial Differential Equations
* The Mathematics of Real Waves
* Special Functions
* Integral Equations
* Vectors and Tensors
* Differential Calculus on Manifolds
* Integration on Manifolds
* An Introduction to Differential Topology
* Groups and Group Representations
* Lie Groups
* The Geometry of Fibre Bundles
* Complex Analysis I
* Complex Analysis II
* Special Functions and Complex Variables
      o Appendix A: Linear Algebra Review
      o Appendix B: Fourier Series and Integrals 
This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user j.c.
answered Nov 11, 2010 by j.c. (260 points) [ no revision ]
+ 7 like - 0 dislike

Sean Carroll's Lecture Notes on General Relativity contain a superb introduction to the mathematics of GR (differential geometry on Riemann manifolds). These also also published in modified form in his book, Spacetime and Geometry.

Spivak's Calculus on Manifolds is a gem.

Bishop's Tensor Analysis on Manifolds is a great introduction to the subject, and published by Dover, is very cheap (less than $10 on amazon).

Georgi's Lie Algebras In Particle Physics is enjoyable and fast-paced, but probably skips around too much to be used as an adequate first exposure.

Shutz's Geometrical Methods of Mathematical Physics and A First Course in General Relativity.

Despite it's incredibly pompous title, Penrose's The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe provides an enjoyable high-level view of a vast expanse of mathematical physics.

As mentioned by Cedric, I am a huge fan of Sussman and Wisdom's Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics and the associated Functional Differential Geometry memo. The citations in those publications will also point to towards a lot of good material and there's more goodies if you dig around in the source code.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user nibot
answered Nov 4, 2010 by nibot (35 points) [ no revision ]
@Schutz's "Geometrical methods ..." is what I turned to when Lie derivatives were causing me great headaches. The best pedagogical explanation of diff. geom. for noobs, IMO.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user user346
Schutz'z "A First Course in GR" has a good mix of both physical AND mathematical principles in the early chapters defining concepts. There's also an unusual primer at the end on the measurement theory and technology of gravitational wave detection.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user WetSavannaAnimal aka Rod Vance
Spivak's "Physics for Mathematicians. Mechanics I", see mathpop.com/mechanics1.htm. Even though this is not just on math background, but rather a very math minded physics text book.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user UwF
+ 6 like - 0 dislike

For a general approach to the maths involved in both classical and quantum physics, one of my favourite books is:

-"Mathematics of classical and quantum physics", Byron & Fuller.

In the more geometrical side, besides the already mentioned books, you can try:

-"The geometry of physics. An introduction", Theodore Frankel.

And, as a general reference, the usual text is Arfken's "Mathematical methods for physicists".

But, IMHO, if you want to thoroughly understand the mathematical tools of physics, you should use "Methods of Theoretical Physics", by Morse & Feshbach. It is an old book, but essential if you want to understand Jackson's Classical Electrodynamics or Messiah's Quantum Mechanics.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user asanlua
answered Nov 11, 2010 by asanlua (40 points) [ no revision ]
+ 5 like - 0 dislike

Nice question. I don't know much about either differential geometry or algebraic topology, but having studied groups a little, I think I can provide some references for Lie groups. So here are the books I found useful

  • Samelson, Notes on Lie Algebras written in a Definition, Theorem, Proof style, so it's little hard to grasp (I recommend mutliple rereading) but gives a good overview of the structure, classification (root systems and Dynkin diagrams) and representations (highest weight theory) of Lie algebras.

  • Humphreys, Introduction to Lie Algebras and Representation Theory less theorem-heavy and more talkative than Samelson and contains huge number of great exercises.

  • Fulton, Harris, Representation Theory A First Course discusses more or less everything a physicist needs to know about groups (also mentions some finite groups). Lacks the systematic theorem based approach of the two books above, but boasts great explanations and nice pictures. I'd suggest it as a nice first reading about groups it if weren't for its length.

  • Goodman, Wallach, Representations and Invariants of the Classical Groups this is an ultimate bible on groups. Authors take an algebraic geometrical approach to the Lie groups (instead of the usual differential geometrical) which makes the book somewhat hard to read for a regular physicist. But besides this the book provides an in-depth look at lots of concrete representations (e.g. tensor representations and connection with symmetric group; this is often omitted elsewhere), discusses highest weight theory at great length, provides a nice introduction to spinors and also mentions branching rules. And lots of other stuff. Definitely recommended.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user Marek
answered Jan 6, 2011 by Marek (635 points) [ no revision ]
+ 4 like - 0 dislike
  • One, pretty mathy, but classic book about Riemannain manifolds is: Semi-Riemannian Geometry by O'Neill.

  • Some approachable Lie Algebra notes are available here, they are designed to require little background: Lecture Notes on Lie Algebra.

  • My personal favorite book about Algebraic/Differential Topology is : Calculus to Cohomology. This book is extremely approachable, requiring only multivariable calculus and linear algebra to completely understand it. I cannot recommend it enough, particularly for physics.

Also I third Road to Reality. It is a very fun/interesting book!

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user Benjamin Horowitz
answered Jun 2, 2011 by UnknownToSE (505 points) [ no revision ]
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I found Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences by Mary Boas to be a very good broad book covering the basics. You'll need other books obviously but if you are looking for one book for a solid review of the basics, this book is excellent.

Here are the chapter titles:

  1. Infinite series, power series
  2. Complex numbers
  3. Linear algebra
  4. Partial differentiation
  5. Multiple integrals
  6. Vector analysis
  7. Fourier series and transforms
  8. Ordinary differential equations
  9. Calculus of variations
  10. Tensor analysis
  11. Special functions
  12. Series solutions of differential equations, legendre, bessel, hermite, and laguerre functions
  13. Partial differential equations
  14. Functions of a complex variable
  15. Probability and statistics

I also second Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality as a good book with a broad scope of math with a more theoretical slant.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user inflector
answered Jan 6, 2011 by inflector (10 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Here you have a book from Sussman and Wisdom from MIT about functional differential geometry covering your first query about "manifolds".

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user Cedric H.
answered Nov 4, 2010 by Cedric H. (-20 points) [ no revision ]
What a fascinatingly unusual book! Differential Geometry explained as computer algorithms.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user WetSavannaAnimal aka Rod Vance
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Physics Reports 66: Gravitation, Gauge Theories, and Geometry (Eguchi, Gilkey and Hanson).

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user Eric Zaslow
answered Jan 7, 2011 by Eric Zaslow (385 points) [ no revision ]
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

Are you asking for an intro level book or a more advanced book for someone who already has some background in those topics?

For an introductory level, I second the Schutz and Spivak recommended above. Penrose and Frankel are suitable only if you already have had an introductory course in those subjects, in my opinion. Frankel's introduction to manifolds is very condensed, and Penrose is really providing a bird's eye view while skipping over many details beginners would need to build basic intuitions.

The best introductory notes I've come across for manifolds as used in GR are David Malament's, which you can download here.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user Ponder Stibbons
answered Jan 7, 2011 by Ponder Stibbons (0 points) [ no revision ]
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

A very good introduction to Lie groups from a physicist point of view is

H. Lipkin, Lie Group for Pedestrians

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-05-04 07:44 (UCT), posted by SE-user miguelFe
answered Nov 26, 2013 by miguelFe (50 points) [ no revision ]

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