MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

My undergraduate advisor said something very interesting to me the other day; it was something like "not knowing quantum mechanics is like never having heard a symphony." I've been meaning to learn quantum for some time now, and after seeing it come up repeatedly in mathematical contexts like Scott Aaronson's blog or John Baez's TWF, I figure I might as well do it now.

Unfortunately, my physics background is a little lacking. I know some mechanics and some E&M, but I can't say I've mastered either (for example, I don't know either the Hamiltonian or the Lagrangian formulations of mechanics). I also have a relatively poor background in differential equations and multivariate calculus. However, I do know a little representation theory and a little functional analysis, and I like q-analogues! (This last comment is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)

Given this state of affairs, what's my best option for learning quantum? Can you recommend me a good reference that downplays the historical progression and emphasizes the mathematics? Is it necessary that I understand what a Hamiltonian is first?

(I hope this is "of interest to mathematicians." Certainly the word "quantum" gets thrown around enough in mathematics papers that I would think it is.)

share|cite|improve this question
I tried a book called "Quantum mechanics for Dummies" but they had a bid different definition on "dummies" than I have. – Per Alexandersson Dec 16 '12 at 20:59
I'm very surprised only one person has mentioned Dirac's Principles of Quantum Mechanics. A book on quantum theory from someone who had an enormous impact on the subject, it's very clear and quantum mechanics is cleanly developed and motivated from scratch. It's probably my favorite physics book I've ever read. Moreover it's the only exposition on quantum mechanics that has made sense to me. I highly recommend it. – user32157 Mar 20 '13 at 1:54

41 Answers 41

I would highly recommend Shankar's "Principles of Quantum Mechanics", a book from which I learnt quantum mechanics in 12th grade (no, this says nothing about my abilities, but instead goes to show how fantastically good Shankar is in explaining the principles of quantum mechanics to a high school student interested in self-studying it before college). This, followed by Feynman's Volume III, were my first taste of quantum mechanics before I even started undergraduate studies in physics.

share|cite|improve this answer

Charles already posted Takhtajan's book, which is my first choice --- it's geared towards early graduate students. A more elementary book, geared towards math undergrads, is by Fadeev (who is, incidentally, Takhtajan's adviser, and Takhtajan's book can be understood as some sort of sequel).

The book Mirror Symmetry by Hori et al. includes a whirlwind overview of quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. It's not mathematical in the sense that it contains no proofs and even fewer definitions, but it doesn't require any particular background.

share|cite|improve this answer

Try this book:

  • Geometry of Quantum Theory. Varadarajan, V.S. This is a book about the mathematical foundations of quantum theory. Its aim is to develop the conceptual basis of modern quantum theory from general principles using the resources and techniques of modern mathematics.
share|cite|improve this answer

For a short, well-written and fairly basic introduction to QM you can check Gillespie's classic "A Quantum Mechanics Primer". You won't need any previous background.

If you want to get a grasp / read a summary about what the book has to offer, you may visit my post:

Gillespie’s A Quantum Mechanics Primer (I)

share|cite|improve this answer

I agree with the comment saying take a course if you can.

That said, for self study, I found Bohm's quantum theory (dover ; cheap) very usable, given an engineering undergrad education. It is old fashioned, and very verbose (perhaps too much), but also doesn't skimp on the math.

share|cite|improve this answer

There is a wonderful book by David Morin called "Introduction to Classical Mechanics". This book treats mechanics in a problems-oriented format; worked exercises dominate the book, making it very hands on. This was written for the honors freshman mechanics class at Harvard, and the math is simple but rich. It is basically a mix of differential equations and Euclidean geometry (and physics) and yet are problems there to challenge everybody. The book moves efficiently and he covers Lagrangians by Chapter 6. He explains the least action principle in a simple and natural way using only basic calculus.

In my opinion, you can learn quantum mechanics straight from a variety of sources, but it will seem unmotivated. Then again, Fenynman says "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."

share|cite|improve this answer

Matt Leifer once told me people should start (for a "conceptual" background) with John Polkinghorne's Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Then, to delve into the concepts in depth, I would recommend getting (when it is released in a month or two) Q-PSI: Quantum Processes, Systems, and Information by Ben Schumacher and Michael Westmoreland (Cambridge U. Press). I've been using it to teach undergrad. QM for a bit over a year. I would supplement it with J.J. Sakurai's Modern Quantum Mechanics (not Advanced Quantum Mechanics - they're completely different books) and, to truly appreciate a different viewpoint, Quantum Paradoxes: Quantum Theory for the Perplexed by Yakir Aharonov and Daniel Rohrlich.

If you get interested in the quantum information side of things (which is highly mathematical), pick up Protecting Information: From Classical Error Correction to Quantum Cryptography by Susan Loepp and Bill Wootters and the "bible" of QI, Quantum Computation and Quantum Information (known popularly as "Mike and Ike") by Michael Nielsen and Isaac Chuang.

share|cite|improve this answer

I happen to know about what appears to be a most appropriate book to teach quata to mathematicians : DANIEL T. GILLESPIE : A QUANTUM MECHANICS PRIMER, An Elementary Introduction to the Formal Theory of Non-relativistic Quantum Mechanics. Open University, England, 1973, ISBN 0 7002 2290 1. I taught quanta from it to several generations of mathematicians.

share|cite|improve this answer

David Mermin wrote a quantum textbook with a similar audience in mind (no diff. eqs. required):

share|cite|improve this answer

Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Field Theory: A Mathematical Primer.

I haven't read it (yet), though, but, given the Preface, it was written specifically for math students seeking a mathematically-rigorous introduction to QM and QFT.

share|cite|improve this answer

Quantum Mechanics, Enrico Fermi's work is helpful.I think mathematicians study quantum mechanics,to learn how physics is processed with math,the way and the insight physicists do work with math,and the physical interpretation as well.It is an excellent book although the content is somehow oldfashioned.

share|cite|improve this answer

protected by François G. Dorais Jul 19 '13 at 17:17

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.