Friday, May 8, 2009

I Say, The Thing is Done

In the early days of this blog, I had some things to say about physics teaching and physics textbooks (here and here, for example). Then I got pretty quiet, because I was working hard on a book of my own - and it's finally here!

The title is Force and Motion: An Illustrated Guide to Newton's Laws (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). To find the book on Amazon, you can click here. To order instructor's examination copies, you can click here.

I should say that although this is a textbook, I did my best to ignore the conventions of the genre and write for human beings. Much of the story is told with diagrams, and even a casual reader might be tempted to try a problem or two; many of the problems ask you only to sketch, and there are answers in the back. (Physicists, don't be alarmed: the equations are all in there. Indeed, in some ways this book exceeds the usual ambitions of an introductory course.)

My thought is that the book could be a primary text for a suitably focused course in a liberal arts college, or a course at the high school level. It's also concise enough (70,000 words) to be a supplemental text for a university-level survey course - to help students who are having trouble or who just want to dig deeper into the essential material. A friend of mine who is a returning student at Cal State Hayward had a good experience using a rough draft of the book in this way.

A third goal is to put the book in front of current and future teachers of physics at the high school and college levels.


The title of this post refers to my own book of course, but it's also an allusion to the original textbook on Newton's Laws: the Principia of Isaac Newton himself. One of the things I always enjoyed about reading the Principia was the style in which its mathematical proofs were written. Often there would come a moment when, having arranged all his pieces on the chessboard, Newton would imperiously announce checkmate: I say, the thing is done. The last two or three sentences would then play out the inevitable conclusion as the components of the strategy clicked into place. You can see examples on this page of the Principia.


I could say a lot about how my book differs from traditional presentations of Newton's Laws, but I'll save that for a separate post. Right now I want to celebrate being #5 on today's Amazon ranking of books about dynamics! (Friends and family, I owe you one.)