A bizarre title, but nothing to do with the fact that I am constitutionally lazy. Rather, it is related to the war I and a colleague are attempting to wage against the way physics is (in the UK at least) treated as a form of applied mathematics.
It also has direct application to astrophysics – I know one student who went to study physics at university in 2002, in large part attracted by astronomy, but after a second year including astrophysics was saying "I hate stars." He was quite reasonable at maths, but it is the way that the subject was presented that put him off.
What’s wrong with work, though? Owen Barfield
said that a thing can be a symbol of something of which it is itself a part, and I'm picking out the thermodynamic concept of work as that symbol. Even at high school in the early 1960s, I found things slipping below the radar because work, momentum, etc., all were treated as applied maths concepts. Therefore the mathematical treatment of viscosity of gases according to the kinetic theory rolled over my brain like water off the proverbial duck’s back.
Now, I am not averse to maths, in fact I have recently started to teach a course in its history (mostly up to 1900), but what was the connection with the laboratory method for determining the viscosity of a liquid?
Turning again after nearly 40 years to the "Kinetic Theory of Gases" by Sir James Jeans
, I find he brings in PdV
straight in without explanation, rather like a deus ex machina
from 19th century Classical Thermodynamics. "Machina" is the right word, because as Craig Bohren  says, the subject has still not completely lost its smell of engines.
I find that even in Ralph Baierlein's generally excellent book on thermal physics, he brings it in to a quantum treatment of loss of energy in adiabatic expansion.
Here's where a few years ago I convinced myself that "work" really "works", and is not some mystic thingamajig like Newton's contemporaries feared gravitation was:
In the classical model
, I worked out on an old envelope that the particles bouncing back from the walls of a slowly expanding box were losing momentum and hence kinetic energy in the right amount.
On the quantum model
, if one keeps the number of nodes in the particle wavefunction constant, the same numerical result occurs. Now I can really believe in the work concept, and model the core and "mantle" of a star as being separated by the skin of a virtual balloon.
The spread of this skeletal mathematical approach, in the USA at least, is traced in an article by David Kaiser (MIT) in the May 2007 Physics World
entitled "Turning physicists into quantum mechanics". In the UK, school physics is a threatened species in the wild as the system tries to turn budding physicists into formula monkeys.
If, in the course of learning physics, you have encountered any bugbears of your own, please let me know.
 author of two excellent books without equations:
Bohren, C.F Clouds in a Glass of Beer: Simple Experiments in Atmospheric Physics
(Dover, 2001 ISBN: 0486417387)
Bohren, C.F., What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?: More Experiments in Atmospheric Physics
(Dover, 2006 ISBN: 0486453367)