Thankful for a Well-Stocked Bookshelf

Used under Creative Commons License from gadl: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gadl/91539531/

So this week, we’re following a US Thanksgiving theme, about what we’re thankful for, or other Thanksgiving related topics. When I talk to physicists considering making the switch to engineering, one of the regular jokes is “Engineers don’t think they have to know everything. They just need to know where to look it up”. And so I’m thankful for my favorite place to look things up: my bookshelf.

I’ve never sold back a textbook (and yes, I’m lucky to have been able to do so), and there are many I still refer to regularly. I’m also lucky that my family considers textbooks totally reasonable birthday/holiday presents, and so I have several books for classes I never took.

Despite being a “digital native”, there are just certain things which are easier to find in a textbook. Looking for that one equation about crack growth, but can’t remember who it’s named after? Good luck using Google. On the other hand, even if the index fails you, it takes less time to flip through a book than read half of Wikipedia.

I’m also TAing a lab class this semester, and my bookshelf has saved my bacon on a few occasions. It helps me check that I’m not skipping major concepts between what they already know and what I’m trying to explain, I can double check my terminology before lecture, and when I’ve forgotten exactly how ferroelectricity works, I can just re-read the chapter to brush up and answer student questions. Sure, the Wikipedia article is good, but textbooks often are more coherently organized in conveying concepts in a logical order.

It may not be as portable as an internet connection, but it’s one of the things I’m thankful to have.

Is there a textbook you’re thankful to have around?

2 responses to “Thankful for a Well-Stocked Bookshelf”

  1. gasstationwithoutpumps

    Google

    propagation of cracks equation

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fracture_mechanics
    is the first hit, and that is what you pointed to.

    For that sort of simple lookup, google and Wikipedia probably beat books. I say this as person who loves books and has over 3000. I did not keep all my textbooks from college (I got rid of the pure math books when I moved to my first faculty job), but I did keep quite a few and have had occasion to refer to them.

    Your other point, that books generally provide more coherence than encyclopedias and randomly found articles, is better. It is generally true, but isn’t universally true, though. I’ve yet to find a paper Python text that is better than the on-line tutorial and documentation, for example.

    I don’t have any one textbook that I consult frequently. What happens more often is that I have a vague recollection of something from 30 years ago, and have to leaf through a handful of books to refresh my memory. I then usually have to go on-line to get more up-to-date material on the subject. Few computer science books have remained useful over that long a period (Knuth’s books, a few graph algorithms books, but not much else).

  2. Jacob

    A collection of textbooks is a wonderful thing to have. I know that I feel incomplete without Griffith’s electromagnetics textbook around to keep me company, and there are a few others that I like to check on occassion. It would, however, be really nice to have digital versions to be able to take along when I’m travelling, or to be able to ctrl+F when I *do* know what I’m looking for but it isn’t listed in the index.

    One thing I’m super-thankful for is my university’s library. I couldn’t pursue much beyond the classroom without its collection of books and online access resources. I don’t know what I’m going to do without it, after I graduate…