Feynman Lectures on Mechanics Freely Available

In the early 60’s, the late Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Caltech, gave a two-year course of lectures on physics for Caltech freshmen and sophomores.  These lectures were edited into a three-volume set that was used thereafter as the text for Caltech’s lower-division (universally required!) physics courses.  Feynman’s course was taken simultaneously with two years of calculus.

I took the course the first year the textbooks were in print.  They were different from any physics text I have seen before or since: insightful, entertaining, and hard on undergraduates.  My later impression was that the books were personally very popular with physicists but were not widely used as texts because of their difficulty.

The first volume of the series, which covers mechanics, is now freely available on the Internet at http://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/.  The first three chapters include his overview of physics as of 1963, which is not radically different a half-century later (so far as I know).  Chapters Four through Fourteen cover mechanics and are interesting to sample; note particularly Chapter Eleven on vectors.  Chapter Sixteen, Section One, has his famous complaints about “cocktail-party philosophers.”

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