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2.6 out of 5 stars
2.6 out of 5 stars
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on July 31, 2003
(Disclaimer: All my criticisms are directed against Stephen Thornton, who prepared this edition when Marion died. I haven't seriously examined the earlier editions.)
Let it not be said that this book is utterly without virtue. It does have a good store of challenging, interesting problems. Also, the introductory chapter includes a unique (for this level) discussion of the Levi-Civita notation, which is great for managing complicated expressions in vector and tensor analysis (if you're currently taking junior or senior E&M, use this if your teacher asks you to verify all those crazy vector identities on the inside cover of your book!). But beyond this, I can see no redeeming virtues. In a genre which is littered with astoundingly bad books, this book is a standout, and is among the "hated classics" like Reif's statistical mechanics book or J.D. Jackson's E&M book. But even those books, which are admittedly overly-difficult and often obtuse, do contain a lot of quality thought and valuable knowledge. A good book, when re-read, will reveal greater and greater depths of insight and knowledge.
But rereading this book only revealed greater levels of sloppy thought. Only the more elementary derivations are comprehensible; the rest are befuddling, and I found that I had to write my own derivations and look up alternatives because the examples were either unconvincing, incomprehensible, or seemed to be based on incorrect physical reasoning. Ironically, I found that this book improved my confidence in mechanics because I had to spend so much time trying to compensate for the enormous failings logic, calculation, and pedagogy. But I'd still give it zero stars if I could.
This book is just plain bad (a judgement I very rarely make), and I am very curious as to whether the reviewers who defend the book really thought about its contents or tried to follow all of its logic step by step, as one should do during any serious examination of a science text. Now some reviewers had good teachers, in which case they probably paid more attention to their lecture notes than the book. An individual skilled with mathematical manipulation can do surprisingly difficult problems without thinking very much about the underlying physical concepts or looking at any part of a derivation other than the part in the box. Finally, a very bright person may simply think through matters for themselves during and after a class, not taking time to examine the book. So I am not insulting the readers who gave it good reviews; I'm sure they did well in class, since students who get good grades don't write vitriol-filled reviews about the required text on But I know they didn't really read it carefully.
Instructors often choose this book because they were taught from previous editions (which may be superior), and may be too lazy or recalcitrant to change their ways. Although I often got cross looks from my professors for complaining about it, they generally agreed with my criticisms when I pushed the issue. But I didn't need to convince them. I overheard one professor bashing Chapter 4 as "just hacked together at the last minute because the material is sexy and fashionable." And right he was, for that chapter contains the worst explanations of nonlinear dynamics concepts I have ever seen (even if you discount the wrongly-printed Poincare sections towards the end). This same teacher admitted that he had spend over twenty minutes trying to understand the explanation of a very simple formula (and he is a theoretician who knows far more math than the average physicist).
Another fellow I knew, a Ph.D who was teaching an advanced mechanics class at my school for the first time, and was asked to use Marion, rewrote just about every example and explanation in the book for his students because he found them incomprehensible or too obtuse for beginners.
So don't feel bad if this book befuddled you. You're not alone, either among the great (Ph.D theoreticians and experimentalists) or the small (bile-spouting nobodies with undergraduate degree only).
Finally, a bit of advice for students: If you were made to buy this book, I recommend that you go to your library and find books about classical mechanics. Pick up a book or two that doesn't have the name "Thornton" on the cover. Now, it may be too easy (French's "Newtonian Mechanics" is less mathematical, but I still recommend it) or too hard (Goldstein is for highly motivated and prepared undergrads only), but I can tell you in all confidence that the random mechanics book you pick out will be better than the one you have now.
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on July 21, 2003
This book is great for advanced undergrad mechanics. I used it first time through and thought it wonderful. All you need is a little bit of DiffEq and some Linear Algebra (all of which he gives you in Chapter 1). Chapters 12-13 are a little tricky, but Marion does a thorough job.
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on June 25, 2003
This is a good intermediate mechanics book for an upper level undergraduate physics course. One must have mastered Introductory Physics 1&2, Calculus 1,2&3, Differential Equations and Linear Algebra before attempting to read this book. Like most Physics and Math books this is not meant for lite reading. Math and physics texts should be read with scrutiny and a paper and pencil at hand. The problems are a bit difficult but the student solutions manual is a great resource to have. Armed with the right tools this book is an insightful read. I recommend it to all math and science majors alike.
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on May 21, 2003
i agree to a lesser or greater extent with many of the polar opinions expressed here. my professors, despite their continued use of the book, have a bit of distaste for it. they claim previous editions were better. i cannot attest to the quality of the earlier editions, but i can say that the current one is not a very good text. but i will concur with the others in that the book does a fantastic job of explaining lagrangian and hamiltonian dynamics.
the downside is that this was the only portion i fully understood after leaving my mechanics class. a research seminar on gravitational lensing would give me a second swing at the central-force motion chapter, which i did, in all honesty, find easier to read the second time around.
i believe a second look at many of the sections would prove to be very helpful to those that are troubled. one thing in M&T, however, is simply egregious: the problems are sloppy, poorly described, and overly complicated. if the goal is to achieve a better understanding of the material, these questions fail miserably. good exercises are lost amidst mathematics that are overly troublesome to really be useful.
having a course that discusses mathematical methods in physics before diving into this book is a great idea. i used potter and goldberg's "mathematical methods" and found it to be a very useful text, both as a teaching device and as a reference. combined with marion's text, i feel that one could certainly wade through classical mechanics.
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on April 20, 2003
I had the misfortune of taking a class that used this book. This book contains piles of mathematical expressions barely any of which are adequatelly explained. This text is intended to be used in courses that introduce mathematical methods in physics, what it actually does, is present some qualitative ideas and some equations that don't really seem to connect to the text unless you already know the material. This book would make a nice rewiew material for someone who learned the subject already, however, in no way it provides any real insight into the priciples of physics that it attempts to explain.
This book really is one of those unfortunate examples that are targeted at beginnig students, but are only readable to professors.
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on February 19, 2003
Take no notice of the tripe written below about this book. Having missed taking my school's graduate course in classical mechanics due to arriving late in the year, I was nevertheless required to take qualifying exams which contained a classical mechanics section. I decided to buy this book and "cram" classical mechanics in an intense 10-day period - and it got me through. In other words the book is extremely lucid and great for self-study, with excellent worked examples and questions of varying degree of difficulty.
To be honest, classical mechanics was not one of my favorite subjects in physics, but studying from this book was a joy. The Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulisms are amongst the most beautiful theories in physics - revelatory stuff.
Although the price of the book is tantamount to daylight robbery, it saved my bacon and hence in my opinion the book is priceless.
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on January 24, 2003
This book contains for more math than words, and should only be used by readers who are already fairly familiar with mechanics. Not that there is nothing to be learned from this book--there is! There is plenty of theory contained here, but if you don't know the ropes already, you'll be lost faster than Gore in his backyard. You need to be at least an undergrad who has taken an intro. to mechanics course before reading this text.
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on July 17, 2002
I had the displeasure of using this book over the course of two semesters. "Classical Dynamics" is poorly constructed, gives weak examples, and the explanations are less than clear. The first five chapters seem like a pitiful extension to physics 1. My plea to professors, please stop using certain textbooks just out of tradition.
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on April 28, 2002
I'm currently studying for a final exam in an introductory classical mechanics course. Throughout the course, I knew this book was hard to understand, but a truly excellent professor helped clarify the text and explain the ambiguities in the problems.
Presently as I go through the text in preparation for the final with an increased maturity in the subject, I can see its flaws more clearly. The notation used throughout the book is inconsistent (such as the use of T or K almost randomly for Kinetic Energy), examples are not thorough, and the explanation of basic physics is convoluted. In short, using this book as an introduction to classical mechanics without the assistance of an experienced professor is almost impossible.
Being an introductory course, the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian methods were only touched upon as a primer for later classes. I purchased my copy of the book in used condition and have not had any problems with the binding, although the price does seem extravagant.
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on April 9, 2002
This text is well written and enjoyable. Thornton takes pains to explain in English what he's doing with the mathematics. However, the manufacture of the book is terrible. I had only been using the book for a few months when it split in half right down the spine.
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