Science Book Reviews : Text Books

Reviews of Physics , Chemistry , Geology , and Biology Textbooks
Appropriate for High School and College Applications

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  Paul G. Hewitt, Conceptual Physics, 8th Edition [Click here to display the price.] (Edition published by Addison-Wesley, July, 1997.)

Paul G. Hewitt, Conceptual Physics, Edition published by the Longman Publishing Group, December, 1997. [Click here to display the price.] (I don't know how it differs from the edition named above. Listed here for completeness (or in case Addison-Wesley goes out of stock).

          Plain English and non-mathematical explanation of all topics in physics. Everyday items, such as objects found around the house or in the playground, are taken as the examples wherever possible. Cartoons are often the media of his messages (Paul Hewitt also draws physics teaching cartoons for every issue of The Physics Teacher magazine, the journal of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).

          Conceptual Physics is best text book for a high school general physics course. It is NOT suitable as the primary text book for a New York State Regents physics course, since the Regents required mathematical formulas are absent.

          Since Paul G. Hewitt believes in the method of conceptual physics, the book is packed full of conceptual questions and exercises, which physics teachers who have been trained in the method of constructivism will want to use for classroom discussions.

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  John D. Cutnell and Kenneth W. Johnson, Physics [Click here to display the price.]

          Simply the best algebra-based college physics 101 book. Everyday objects and visual concepts are emphasized throughout.

          Cutnell and Johnson in an introductory text. It differs from a high school physics textbook mainly in that it assumes a slightly greater proficiency in algebra. It begins with complete coverage of vector operations in the abstract, whereas a high school curriculum usually goes right into mechanics and introduces vector operations as needed. Cutnell and Johnson also includes units on rotational kinematics, rotational dynamics, and fluid mechanics, which are omitted entirely from the New York State Regents curriculum for high school physics, but are often covered in part by high school teachers in states other than New York. Cutnell and Johnson is not intended as a high school text, but as the physics text for college students who don't require the calculus treatment needed by physics and engineering majors, e.g., the physics requirement of nursing students. It is the best book available today for its specific purpose.

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  Raymond A. Serway, Principles of Physics, 2nd edition [Click here to display the price.]

          Serway is the best calculus-based college physics book. Not appropriate for an algebra-based curriculum; e.g., the electric field produced by nonuniform charge distributions is calculated by integration.

          The edition linked above is the complete text in one volume. The book is also available in separate Volume 1 and Volume 2 editions.

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  David Halliday, Robert Resnick, and Jearl Walker; Fundamentals of Physics, 5th edition (hardcover) [Click here to display the price.]

          Calculus-based. Many physics teachers like Halliday, Resnick, and Walker better than Serway , but I feel that Serway is slightly easier to understand. Students' perception is sometimes that Halliday has "too many words".

          I have linked to the edition that consists of one large volume. There are also various editions produced in 2-volume and 3-volume sets.

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  Kenneth Krane, Modern Physics [Click here to display the price.]

          The best textbook for what's usually a third or fourth course in college physics, covering everything from quantum mechanics to relativity to nuclear energy. The student must already know the basics of calculus. Although the actual derivitives and integrals needed here are relatively simple, what the equations mean would be incomprehensible without some knowledge of calculus. The hardcover first edition has been discontinued; the second edition is paperback.

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  Hardwick and Bouillon, Introduction to Chemistry [Click here to display the price.]

          Hardwick and Bouillon take a "one step at a time" approach to problem solving. How would I figure out how many moles of O2 are needed to produce 6 grams of H2O? Brief discussion ... a numerical example ... a few exercises with solutions provided at the end of the chapter. The factor label method of converting units is used from the beginning, so the student always has a systematic way to get from grams to moles to mole ratios to compound mass, etc.

          Everyday examples of substances are used as examples: ethylene glycol is car antifreeze, a sodium hypochlorite solution is Clorox bleach, etc. The more abstract concepts, such as the quantized states of electrons, are developed gradually, and clarified with color illustrations.

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  Darrell D. Ebbing, General Chemistry [Click here to display the price.]

          I disagree with those teachers who say this book is suitable for a first course in chemistry. It moves much too fast through the basic skills. I would recommend this book if you already know something about the subject, and if you intend to continue on later to take organic chemistry. However, if this is your first exposure to the subject and/or if you intend to stop after taking chemistry 101-102, you'd be better off with the Hardwick and Bouillon text listed above.

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  Hamblin and Christiansen, Earth's Dynamic Systems, 8th edition

          Suitable for a "physical geology 101-102" course. Gorgeous high-quality color photographs throughout, in addition to maps, false-color satellite images, and drawings with the proper degree of exaggerated dimensions to clarify features. The authors appear to consider aesthetics to be the primary source of student motivation, and no one will ever think "differential weathering" sounds like a dry subject after seeing the spectacular photos of Bryce Canyon, and several locations featuring buttes and pinnacles. The approach is one of unification, that is, although there are entire chapters on vulcanism, the seas, the atmosphere, etc., these processes are also thoroughly integrated into other chapters. Everything about the earth is presented as a happening, perpetually unfolding, rather than something that "is." The chapter on the environment and global changes contains the latest knowledge about this important subject. The book closes with an excellent Chapter 24 about the solar system as a whole, with more beautiful photos, and a clear presentation of similarities and differences (for example, Venus has tectonic features such as folded mountain belts and faults, but their apparent origin is not in a crust made of tectonic plates). 710 pages, 21 page color-illustrated glossary, 10 page index.

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  Brum, McKane, and Karp; Biology Fundamentals

          Brum, McKane, and Karp believe in the use of many full-color illustrations which convey the beauty of life at the same time they impart technical information. Topics which frequently confuse students, such as the interrelation of organelles, and the chemical basis of respiration and photosynthesis, are presented in a way that ensures an exciting story rather than merely a heap of facts suitable only for memorization. The authors occasionally mention issues of "bioethics", the social considerations and matters of conscience which appear now that we are in an age in which we can do certain things which perhaps we shouldn't do. The sections on ecosystems unify everything that has been previously covered.

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Reviews of science text books