We are often confronted with the loopholes in our understanding of concepts of Physics when solving problems, especially if they are of high standard like the ones asked in Olympiads. In such cases standard reference books are of little use.

I recently encountered a wonderful book titled How And Why In Basic Mechanics By A. Kumar which precisely aims at addressing such misconceptions in our understanding. The back cover of the text reads:

Basic mechanics is full of conceptual barriers that even the best of students do not fully overcome, even after years of learning through standard textbooks. What is really needed is a mode of teaching that confronts these barriers explicitly and exposes the students to the non-formal strategies and styles of reasoning that practising physicists employ, but do not fully articulate in print. This book tries to capture some elements of this world through medium of teacher-student dialogue. The dialogue runs through the many conceptual barriers that most critical students and teachers face in different topics of mechanics, and offers helpful points clarifications and insights.

The book should be a valuable accompaniment to the senior secondary and introductory college-level textbooks. It is especially suitable for teachers' orientation courses, talent-nurture programmes for promising students at that level, students appearing for the physics Olympiads and the examinations conducted by the Indian Association of Physics Teachers.

My question is are there any other books of such kind which are neither standalone textbooks nor of higher level (as in graduate or post graduate level)?

PS: I am tutoring students who are preparing for their National Physics Olympiads (12th grade). It is in this context I ask this question.


I am interested in books for topics covered in International Physics Olympiad:

  • Mechanics (Kinematics & Statics)
  • Dynamics
  • Celestial mechanics
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Electromagnetic field
  • Oscillations and waves (Including wave and ray optics)
  • Relativity
  • Quantum Physics
  • Thermodynamics and statistical physics
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It would be a lot easier to generate good answers here if we restrict to a single physics sub-field. $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Mar 22 '17 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielSank: I edited it accordingly $\endgroup$ – claws Mar 27 '17 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand the premise. If students are still clearing up basic misconceptions, they shouldn't be at the Olympiad. And I have no idea what an 'advanced misconception' would be. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Mar 27 '17 at 1:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @claws I don't get it. Your list still contains 9 topics. How have you restricted to "a single physics sub-field"? $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Mar 27 '17 at 2:08

I do not agree completely with you when you say "

.... In such cases standard reference books are of little use."

If you lack knowledge, then you have misconceptions! Standards books may or may not contain typographical errors, wrong calculations or wrong expressions. But it is instructor's/teacher's responsibility to clear misconceptions.

One famous example from Newtonian Mechanics: If you ask a student

If force acting on a particle is constant, what will be the speed of the particle ? Will it increase , decrease or will remain constant ?

Few (or may be many) students will say - "speed will remain constant". Which is obviously wrong.

This misconception arises when you have not understood the concept clearly. This is not a "high standard" question ! In fact it is a basic or fundamental question.

All it boils down to is (i) teacher's own knowledge of the subject and (ii) students' knowledge of that subject!! Just reading many books won't help!

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  • $\begingroup$ really? I don't think students are not so foolish. $\endgroup$ – Theoretical Jun 5 '18 at 17:01

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