*In a Nutshell*series: “

*Group Theory in a Nutshell for Physicists”*. With this book Tony has delivered a trilogy on fundamental physics. The earlier two books cover quantum field theory (“

*Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell*“) and general relativity (“

*Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell*“).

Having the book in my possession for just a few hours and having thumbed through it, I am happy to report that, this book lives up to my high expectations and can stand shoulder to shoulder with Zee’s other two *Nutshell* books. I am not going to review the book here, but I do feel triggered to say a few words on Zee’s *Nutshell* trilogy in general. Hopefully, for those of you not familiar with Zee’s writing but eager to self-study fundamental physics, this will allow you to decide if these books are right for you.

For a start, if not clear already, I plead guilty to being a Zee fanboy. Not only is Zee’s *Nutshell* trilogy present on my bookshelves, I also own Zee’s popular science writings “*An Old Man’s Toy*“, and “*Fearful Symmetry*“. Stretching things a bit, these latter two books can be seen as the popular science versions of book 2 (Einstein Gravity) and book 3 (Group Theory) from the *Nutshell* trilogy. Stretching a bit more, one could classify Feynman’s “*QED*“, which contains an introduction by Zee, as the popular science version of Zee’s first *Nutshell*‘s book (Quantum Field Theory). You can find Zee’s introduction to “*QED*” at his homepage. This short text provides you with an appetizer for Zee’s writing style: informal, peppered with anecdotes, and rich in lighthearted remarks.

Throughout the *Nutshell* trilogy, Zee focuses on building physics intuition. If you are looking for strict mathematical rigor and formal derivations: forget about Zee’s *Nutshell* and look elsewhere. If you are looking for practical advice and eye-opening perspectives that help you build physics intuition on rather abstract subjects, the *Nutshell* trilogy is probably for you. Having said this: I don’t want to leave you with the impression that anywher in his *Nutshell* books Zee is sloppy in his math. Rather, I would judge these books as striking a healthy balance between handwaving and mathematical rigor.

The level addressed by Zee is that of an advanced undergraduate to graduate fundamental physics course. In self-study terms I’d say that Zee’s trilogy assumes a solid understanding of *The Feynman Lectures in Physics*, as well as a firm basis in linear algebra and analysis. From this, the three tomes bring you pretty close to research level. Quite a tall order, and it should not surprise you Zee’s trilogy counts a total of 2000 pages. I suspect that the majority audience for these books is not those whose self-study brings them in first-time contact with the areas studied. Rather it is an audience of readers who studied physics or a related discipline a while ago, but who feel the wish to revisit ‘some of that stuff’ to build a deeper and more up-to-date (and likely better) understanding. This group of readers is well served, as Zee set himself the standard to write the books “I wished I had when I was a student”.

--- This blog post also appeared on hammockphysicist.wordpress.com ---

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