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A series of three books which give a transcript of Richard Feynman's undergraduate Physics lectures at Cornell in the sixties. Still selling strong today, these books are a must for anyone keen on adding some sense of understanding to whatever dry or intractable Physics lectures they may have attended. Or indeed anyone else who wants to gain some insight into Feynman's genius.
The three volumes are:
  • Volume I: Sets the scene of classical physics, starting from how it relates to other sciences and why Physics in particular focuses on the more fundamental issues. The rest of the book is about classical dynamics and thermodynamics with optics thrown in too. Very good explanation of gyroscopic precession and an interesting aside on colour vision.
  • Volume II: Is mainly about electromagnetism, and covers the topic in great depth; it starts by introducing Maxwell's Equations in an intuitive manner and ends up discussing relativistic electrodynamics. Also has interesting chapters on fluid dynamics and curved spaces.
  • Volume III: Covers Quantum theory in a manner markedly different to any other textbook: he starts by introducing Dirac's formalism (considered quite advanced), and then looks at how this accounts for what we observe from the theory (where others usually start). It turns out to be a good idea, not only because it is a more modern approach, but also because it gives you a mental picture to deal with straight away (rather than starting in confusion and then trying to build one).

A brief reply to Suvrat's article: whether or not you would wish to read these books as an introduction to any given Physics course depends on how you choose to learn the subject. If you like to have everything ridgily defined, and presented in a way that follows a set syllabus, then reading the Feymann lectures first will probably be very confusing (indeed, quite a few of Feynmann's own students dropped out of his lectures due to confusion).
However, if understanding the underlying Physics is more important to you, then they are an ideal introduction. In fact, I found it helped to read the relevent sections before attending my own lectures made it a lot easier to follow what the lecturer was actually going on about. I think this was what I was trying to say above.

Here is a small remark about the Feynman lectures which might help people who are starting on them. When I first started using them I was informed of their legendary status and so tried to use them as a text for a long time.

Unfortunately I think this is something which is impossible to do-The Feynman lectures cannot be used as a text. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly a good text should have a certain number of problems and questions. While a supplement to the lectures is available these problems are not really sufficient.
Then the presentation is not systematic. If you are of a slightly mathematical bent of mind where you expect things to be developed systematically starting from a few basic axioms, then the presentation is extremely confusing.
Finally most results are derived in extremely unconventional ways. For example Feynman uses Carnot's argument on reversibility to derive a formula for gravitational potential energy.

All this is not meant to say that the Feynman lectures are bad. They are invaluable and the third volume in particular gives fantastic insight into Quantum Mechanics. Also Feynman will tell you things which no other book will. However I believe that they must not be used for an introduction to any topic. Once you have been exposed to a topic and have understood it to some extent then it would make sense to read what Feynman has to say on it which would then provide you with a new interesting perspective.

The Feynman lectures are classics. Although they are introductions to physics in the sense that they require essentially no physics or mathematics background, Feynman's lectures are beloved by some of the greatest physicists of our time. One reason for their popularity is that all of physics seems to be governed by a relatively small set of core concepts--conservation laws, thermodynamics, and wave theory come to mind--that Feynman identifies and stresses. For example, Feynman brilliantly devotes a lecture to conservation of energy very early in Volume I, long before he discusses Newton's equations. I believe that any person who deeply understands all of Volume I is a strong physicist!

Feynman manages to make deep understanding of important concepts simple, while never being condescending. He understood physics so well that he was able to identify the clearest and simplest ways of thinking about the subject. His tremendous insight allows the reader to have far less insight.

Another great feature of his lectures is that they are entertaining. Feynman shows his sense of humor often and presents in an enthusiastic manner. It is obvious that he enjoyed creating lectures and teaching. I sense that he got pleasure from the fact that he had such deep intuition about physics that he could teach in less traditional and more enlightening ways. Feynman's lectures are far different from other introductory physics textbooks, and in my opinion are far superior.

Feynman's lectures were given at Caltech, not Cornell as suggested previously.

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