I'm not looking for books which deal with the mathematical foundations of Newtonian mechanics. What I'm looking for are modern books which deal with conceptual foundations of Newtonian mechanics - by that I mean exact definition of force, inertia, frames of reference etc. It seems like much of the books that deal topics were written before the 80's or even older (like the one by Ernst Mach himself). And the people who seem to be bothered about these things today are mostly science educators, who again publish very little on these topics. I'm not looking for books written from a philosophical standpoint either. Something that'd be comprehensible by a undergrad would be just fine.

Note: This question probably doesn't meet the guidelines as defined in the faq. That is why I added the 'soft-question' tag. Also, any moderator who wishes to make this question community-wiki is most welcome to do so!

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question. More of this is probably found in the pedagogical literature and in places like The Physics Teacher and Physics Today than in textbooks. You could also look at the Feynman Lectures and Kleppner and Kolenkow. Also Galili and Tseitlin, Newton's First Law: Text, Translations, Interpretations and Physics Education. $\endgroup$ – user4552 Jul 29 '11 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ Is there any need for new literature here? I mean, the subject has been more or less the same since the Newton. What changed was the introduction of new formalisms of Lagrange and Hamiltonian and more recently the geometrical treatment of the subject. But since you are not looking for mathematical foundations, Newton is still all you need (just updated to a bit more modern languages). FWIW I don't think there will ever be anything better than Feynman's Lectures. $\endgroup$ – Marek Jul 29 '11 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ The American Journal of Physics is also a good place to look for deep discussions of such topics $\endgroup$ – Physicsworks Jul 29 '11 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ The soft-question tag isn't for questions which blatantly don't fit the categories in the FAQ; those questions are just off topic, period. (Though we should expand the list of topics a bit) It's for questions which are not actually about physics but are still marginally related to physics in some way. I guess you could argue that book recommendation questions are of that type, but the convention is not to apply soft-question to these sorts of questions. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 29 '11 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Marek: As an example, Newton went to his grave not knowing about conservation of energy. Another example is that I think observational tests of Brans-Dicke gravity tell us something interesting about plain old classical mechanics -- essentially that not all motion is relative. $\endgroup$ – user4552 Jul 29 '11 at 22:08

You may have a look at the works of Noll and Truesdell, for example

Lectures on the foundations of continuum mechanics and thermodynamics

or at the paper of Eisenbud (which maybe has influenced implicitly many textbooks):

On the Classical Laws of Motion .

Note that this articles are written from completely different epistemological points of view.

I didn't read it yet, but this may be of interest, too: Classical Dynamics: A Contemporary Approach.

Some other references:

Mechanical systems, classical models By P. P. Teodorescu

Differential Equations, Mechanics, and Computation by R. Palais

Rational Mechanics by C.W.Kilmister

A first course in rational continuum mechanics by C. Truesdell

The elements of continuum mechanics by C. Truesdell

Mathematical aspects of classical and celestial mechanics By V. Arnolʹd, V. Kozlov, A. Neĭshtadt


I really like

Also, Lagrange is pure genius; I'd say Lagrange's book is even better than Mach's; here's a translation of it:


Well, old question, but since I've came across it I'd like to leave a suggestion: Cornelius Lanczos, "The Variational Principles of Mechanics." This is (together with the book by Chandrasekhar) probably exactly what you are looking for. Another book by Lanczos, "Space Through the Ages" is also highly likely to contribute to your goals. Good reading!


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