The Shaggy Steed of Physics: Mathematical Beauty in the Physical World / Edition 2

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The Shaggy Steed is an unassuming figure from Irish folklore who reveals himself as an inspiring teacher of the forces hidden in the universe. This book celebrates an unassuming bit of physics that also turns out to be an inspiring teacher. The two-body problem - the motion of two bodies bound by the inverse-square force of gravity and electricity - is the Shaggy Steed of physics, guiding the reader to an understanding of both the forces and the mathematical beauty hidden in the physical world. The book begins with an exposition of the action principle and its revelation of invariants created by the symmetries of nature. It then turns to the two-body problem and the grand unifying themes of symmetry and topology in physics, both classical and quantum. On the scale of the solar system this motion generates the Kepler ellipse - the fundamental orbit of celestial mechanics. On the microscopic scale of the quantum, the same motion generates the hydrogen atom - the primal element. This remarkable unity of the heavens and the elements rests upon hidden symmetry - the symmetry of rotations in four dimensions. This richly endowed symmetry also contains the symmetry of the relativistic space-time of Einstein. In addition it is the paradigm for the unitary symmetries of the elementary particles and pointed the way to them. This is a book for those seeking to know what breathes life into the equations of physics. It is also a fine tutorial book from which one can learn classical and quantum mechanics with pleasure. The Shaggy Steed of Physics is a spirited companion to the textbooks, a book that all students of physics, chemistry, and mathematics will want to read.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the reviews of the second edition:

"In the present book, the shaggy steed of physics is the two-body problem, a problem that guides the reader through an interesting tour of the mathematical beauty hidden in the physical world. Actually, the author takes an approach which is opposite to that usually taken by the physicist who often marvels at the physical beauty hidden in the mathematical world. This reverse approach makes the reading of this book both interesting and illuminating for the professional physicist or chemist." (Fernande Grandjean and Gary J. Long, Physicalia Vol. 57 (3), 2005)

"The book celebrates an unassuming bit of physics that also turns out to be an inspiring teacher. The two-body problem - the motion of two bodies bound by the inverse-square force of gravity and electricity - is the Shaggy Steed of Physics, guiding the reader to an understanding of both the forces and the mathematical beauty hidden in the physical world. … The second edition preserves the spirit of the original while deepening key topics." (Zentralblatt für Didaktik der Mathematik, January, 2005)

"This is the second edition of a very interesting little book first published in 1994. The author writes with considerable conviction, passion, and clarity on the topic of mechanics as the one major unifying theme … . Overall, I regard this to be an excellent book, especially important for those in the community who would like to understand the big picture, the connections and the similarities between the major physical theories which describe our universe … ." (J M Hill, The Physicist, Vol. 41 (5), September/October, 2004)

"Oliver’s new edition … of his intellectual history of mechanics and the transition from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics enhances the first edition in several areas. … Oliver writes elegantly, almost to the point of being flowery. … One delightful feature not often found in works of this type is the inclusion of an appendix that contains brief technical biographies and portraits of the major contributors to the topic … . Summing up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate and graduate students; professionals." (A. Spero, CHOICE, June, 2004)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780387403076
  • Publisher: Springer New York
  • Publication date: 10/2/2007
  • Edition description: 2nd ed. 2004
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 9.21 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition
1 The Shaggy Steed of Physics 1
2 The Heavens and the Elements 7
3 The Law of Motion 21
4 Classical Mechanics: The Heavens 85
5 Quantum Mechanics: The Elements 137
6 The Hidden Unity of Space and Time 189
7 The Manifold Universe 213
People 241
Notes 257
Index 295
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