For various reasons I dislike the layout of modern university physics textbooks as exemplified by Wolfson, Young & Freedman, Hawkes, Giancoli etc.

For teaching I would rather use/recommend a book that is perfectly linear and does not have so many sidebar 'distractions'. I feel that if something is important it should be properly explained in the main text, and if something is not so important skip it for now. There is always google for those students who want to see pretty pictures of somewhat related stuff.

Because I find the modern 'magazine style' layout distracting I was looking for a modern textbook in the old-school format, i.e. no sidebars and smaller pages but I haven't found anything. Hence my question: Are there modern 1st year university physics textbooks using old-schoool layout, i.e. no sidebars and smaller pages?

I would quite like to recommend an old textbooks like Resnick, Alonso, Adair, but the dated notation and language aren't really great for current 1st year students.

If no such book exists, do you know of any lecture notes that are available online? I suspect they might get fairly close to what I have in mind.

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    $\begingroup$ Not modern, but distraction-less and probably very good: L.D. Landau, A.I. Akhiezer & E.M. Lifshitz General Physics ( Mechanics & Molecular Physics ) Pergamon Press 1967 -- archive.org/details/GeneralPhysics . $\endgroup$ Apr 11, 2018 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ My own open-source texts, lightandmatter.com , have a less busy layout than the kind of texts you're describing, but although I agree with you as a matter of taste, this seems like a superficial/secondary criterion. $\endgroup$
    – user4552
    Apr 12, 2018 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ Hi user2705196 (with Cc @dmckee): This topic (v1) seems too broad. Could we limit it to, say, classical mechanics? $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Apr 12, 2018 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Qmechanic, I should have specified that I am talking about the content of 1st year physics courses at North American universities. This corresponds to a (fairly) well defined canon which is covered by a handful of textbooks called some variant of "University Physics" and have almost identical Table of Contents like this one here pearsoncanada.ca/highered/product-showcase/… $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Ben Crowell, thanks for writing such a great textbook and replying to my humble question. You should post it as an answer! $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 14:11

1 Answer 1


R. Shankar's text fundamentals of physics is a two volume set in trade paperback format (the link is to the first volume). And at 400–500 pages per volume the weight is managible: these books are not uncomfortable to hold in your hand. A downsize of that, however, is that they don't lie flat well.

The contents are in linear style without sidebars, boxed "extras", or any of the other junk that makes modern texts so hard to read (they are also in black and white so the pictures don't have as much "Wow!" factor, but they are high quality illustrations that convey what they need to). I find the writing to be comfortable with occasional bursts of humor such as

  • *"... to describe superstrings, which will be discussed in depth in chapter 3,498 of this book.

I've lent a copy to two different students as a supplemental text. One really like it, one was cool to it, so I can't say what reaction to expect if you used it for a class.

One major deficiency of the book is a lack of exercises in the text itself, but those can be found on the Open Yale Courses site associated with the book.

The price is pretty good, too.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for your answer! I just ordered a copy from the library and will evaluate it. I wasn't aware of this book and it looks like it could be very useful indeed. Plus, it's good to know there's a book out there with puns just as lame as my attempt at jokes in lectures! ;-) $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ Another great joke that made me chuckle contradicting the principle of relativity using trains as an example: “I know I am not moving because the sign up there says Amtrak.” $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting book. My only gripe is the notation on the figures could really use a serif typeface. $\endgroup$
    – cms
    Apr 15, 2018 at 2:01

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