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BySalviation October 12, 2003

I took a mechanics course 9 years ago with an earlier edition, finished undergrad and left the study of physics. Recently I bought a new edition and I have just finished self studying this book and I felt that it's quite excellent. The problems are challenging but that is precisely what I expected. I think it really deserves 4 stars but I gave it 5 because the average ratings given by other reviewers is too low. I would like to go through the positives and negatives of this text. However keep in mind that the negatives of this text are apparent pretty much in every physics text.

Positives: 1) The text is easy to understand, the problems follow from the text 2) Answers to even numbers excercises in the back of text. This is absolutely crucial if you are self studying without an instructor. 3) Problems are random in their difficulty and individually comprehensive in their review of the chapter.

4) The Mathematics is pretty elementary, with a solid understanding of Calculus and differential equations you should be properly equipped to handle the entire text.

Negatives: 1) There are little to no difficult problems involving Newtonian formalism (Forces). Energy and momentum is predominantly used, for good reason, but it does not hurt to go back to the more rigorous approach of Forces for some difficult problems.

2) It would be nice to have a chapter dedicated to cyclic coordinates, Poisson Brackets and Canonical Transformations.

3)Impulses(chap 9) are dealt with in Integral form as opposed to differential form of the time change in momenta. The latter is much more intuitive and useful for solving problems.

4)Wider use in problems and examples of Poisson's equation for gravity.

5) Relativity should be introduced much earlier in the text. This is one of the formalisms of every undergraduate textbook in physics which I do not understand. Relativity always gets pushed back towards the end of textbooks. There is nothing particularly difficult about the subject that demands that it get treated in such a fashion. As opposed to the three chapters prior (dynamics of rigid bodies, coupled oscillations and waves) which are much more demanding. Furthermore it would be useful for students taking E&M at the same time as Mechanics to have had some experience with 4 vectors before dealing with Maxwell's equations.

Positives: 1) The text is easy to understand, the problems follow from the text 2) Answers to even numbers excercises in the back of text. This is absolutely crucial if you are self studying without an instructor. 3) Problems are random in their difficulty and individually comprehensive in their review of the chapter.

4) The Mathematics is pretty elementary, with a solid understanding of Calculus and differential equations you should be properly equipped to handle the entire text.

Negatives: 1) There are little to no difficult problems involving Newtonian formalism (Forces). Energy and momentum is predominantly used, for good reason, but it does not hurt to go back to the more rigorous approach of Forces for some difficult problems.

2) It would be nice to have a chapter dedicated to cyclic coordinates, Poisson Brackets and Canonical Transformations.

3)Impulses(chap 9) are dealt with in Integral form as opposed to differential form of the time change in momenta. The latter is much more intuitive and useful for solving problems.

4)Wider use in problems and examples of Poisson's equation for gravity.

5) Relativity should be introduced much earlier in the text. This is one of the formalisms of every undergraduate textbook in physics which I do not understand. Relativity always gets pushed back towards the end of textbooks. There is nothing particularly difficult about the subject that demands that it get treated in such a fashion. As opposed to the three chapters prior (dynamics of rigid bodies, coupled oscillations and waves) which are much more demanding. Furthermore it would be useful for students taking E&M at the same time as Mechanics to have had some experience with 4 vectors before dealing with Maxwell's equations.

ByA customeron 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 Amazon.com. 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.

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 Amazon.com. 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.

ByA customeron 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.

ByA customeron January 23, 2002

Pros:

The Hamiltonian and Lagrangian sections were well-explained.

Good intro to mathematical formalism/style used in higher level courses. Notation a little clunky though. No use whining about the Math; just get used to it if you want your degree and graduate school.

Problems were interesting & challenging, but will kill newbies... more on that below.

Cons:

The other sections were so-so. Very often I could not see the forest for the trees. Initiates need some kind of context/background to fit the various topics together and with what they already know.

It's not readily obvious that intuition is just as important as analysis in Dynamics problem-solving--no advice given in this respect. Caused me to use up too much time trying to crack a problem when my approach was unsuitable in the first place.

Examples did not help in solving the problems; often felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool before I could swim.

Try Schaum's Outlines, Landau, Goldstein as well. Feynmann's Lectures give some background.

The Hamiltonian and Lagrangian sections were well-explained.

Good intro to mathematical formalism/style used in higher level courses. Notation a little clunky though. No use whining about the Math; just get used to it if you want your degree and graduate school.

Problems were interesting & challenging, but will kill newbies... more on that below.

Cons:

The other sections were so-so. Very often I could not see the forest for the trees. Initiates need some kind of context/background to fit the various topics together and with what they already know.

It's not readily obvious that intuition is just as important as analysis in Dynamics problem-solving--no advice given in this respect. Caused me to use up too much time trying to crack a problem when my approach was unsuitable in the first place.

Examples did not help in solving the problems; often felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool before I could swim.

Try Schaum's Outlines, Landau, Goldstein as well. Feynmann's Lectures give some background.

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ByA customeron November 20, 1999

For an introductory classical mechanics book, Marion is definitely lacking. I have been using his book, though, as a second resource to Goldstein's Classical Dynamics, since his examples (particularly the Lagrange problems and small oscillation problems) are very helpful. I agree with other reviews in that he does not delve deeply enough, theoretically, into the heart of classical mechanics.

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