free books and a rant

Note: these posts are copied over from the ‘mathbucket’ section of my old tumblr blog and I haven’t put much effort into this, so there is likely to be context or formatting missing.

Today I discovered that Springer has put a load of maths and physics textbooks online for free – here’s a helpful list someone made.

I thought it would be just duds from the back catalogue but they’ve put up loads of well-known texts at the undergrad and graduate level – particularly good for maths but some of the physics ones are also worth a look.

… and now for a pointless rant.

Why do so many maths textbooks insist on having this fucking boring introductory chapter that tells you a million preliminaries in incredibly terse prose? More symbols than words if you can possibly manage it? Like this:
image

I’m using Sachs and Wu’s General Relativity for Mathematicians as an example as that is the pdf I have open at the moment, but it’s not unusually bad, I could use anything really. And judging from the Preface this book is actually going to be pretty opinionated, with a distinctive writing style:

Many people believe that current physics and mathematics are, on balance, contributing usefully to the survival of mankind in a state of dignity. We disagree. But should humans survive, gazing at stars on a clear night will remain one of the things that make existence nontrivial.

That suggests a book that could be fun to read. Then it’s straight into exciting pages like this:
image

Who wants to read this stuff when they’ve just picked up a new book? It’s incredibly boring and does nothing to help me decide whether I’ll get anything out of the rest of the book. Why not, say, a basic example that illustrates something of what they want to cover? Or something interesting about the history of the subject? Or just a general overview of what’s coming up?

I’m sure there’s a reason I’m not getting, there usually is.

Do they want it to be self-contained? Well it’s still not self-contained, are they planning to teach me to count as well? It’s not the only book in the world anyway, surely I could just look at another book?

Do they want fix notation? That sounds a lot more reasonable, but surely they could just introduce the concepts in the context that they’re going to be used so that you actually remember them, with maybe a glossary of notation at the end?

I don’t know.

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