Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sakurai's Modern Quantum Mechanics

This is a pure joy to read from, and I can't say this for any other physics graduate textbooks I've ever read. Just from reading Sakurai you are simultaneously learning something and being entertained by the author's wit. Especially notable is the so-called "shock treatment" in introducing QM in the first chapter --- Sakurai is really brilliant in being the first author to come up with that arrangement in teaching QM, so much so that even Schwinger adopted this idea in his own book on quantum mechanics (which is a little advanced). I would say, if I teach a course in QM to an undergrad class, I would not proceed with the usual historical treatment in the introduction to the course (blackbody radiation, photoelectric effect, etc.), instead I would go through the first two chapters of Sakurai. The latter parts are more algebraic and thus I would switch to something like Liboff or Griffiths for an undergrad class, as one still needs to know how to solve the harmonic oscillator with Hermite polynomials and the hydrogen atom with Laguerre polynomials, etc. But for a graduate course treatment, that is exactly the algebraic approach in Sakurai that I like very much, it is extremely elegant and powerful. The problems are just to the right level with the main text and is very useful. One thing to note is that, since the latter chapters on perturbation theory and scattering were written by another author (the editor used Sakurai's own notes to write that part), they are not as lucid and fun to read than the first few chapters, but with some hard work one can still manage to understand most of those latter chapters. I would highly recommend anyone who want to learn QM seriously to go through the entire Sakurai, what you will gain is a very solid understanding of the subject. Also, if you are an aspiring theorist in high energy physics or nuclear physics, learning QM in the algebraic approach adopted in this book will be very useful in particular.


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At 12:25 PM, Blogger F. San Roque said...

The first three chapters of sakurai are excellent, and even the fourth chapter is not too bad. however, sakurai died before he could finish the book and i think chapter five is when an unfinished manuscript was being put together by san fu tuan and others. it's apparent too, as you read on that it's not quite as elegant as the first two or three chapters.

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