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Book review

Author(s) Lamb, H.
Title Hydrodynamics (6th edition)
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Year of publication 1993
Reviewed by Paul Blaga

This is the first Cambridge paperback version of the sixth edition of the highly acclaimed textbook of Lamb (the sixth edition was first published in 1932 and it is the last one for which the author himself took care; the first edition of the book was published in 1879!)

There are very few books of science that remain in use after more than one century from the first publication. Most of the books of this kind, contemporary with first edition of this one are now important only for the history of science. I'll try to explain in the following why Hydrodynamics resisted.

The contents of the book are much to detailed to list them here (there are 385 paragraphs). Anyway, the subject touched are the classical ones (well, classical in 1932), including: the equations of motion and their integration, irotational motions in two and three dimensions, the motion of a solid through a liquid, vortex motion, tidal waves, surface waves, of expansion, viscosity and rotation.

Now let me return to the promised explanations. First of all, I ought to say, from the very beginning, that I'm not going to recommend this book to be used as a textbook. The conceptions about how a textbook should look like have changed very much in the past sixty years. Only few of the topics from the book under review are still present in the curriculum of contemporary science students. The formalism is, also, is some sense, out of date (no vectors, no matrices, no tensors, all the equations are written scalary). On the other hand, a topic as computational fluid dynamics is absent (or almost); of course, this is perfectly understandable, because in the time of Lamb the subject was still in an incipient state.

Nevertheless, the book of Lamb still has strengths that make it invaluable even for the contemporary reader. Perhaps the greatest one is the attention paid to the exact solutions. From this point of view, it remains the best. But there are, also, other topics, as the Hamiltonian formulation of fluid dynamics, the study of the rotating fluid masses or Clebsch coordinates, which are very important but are hard to be found in modern texts.

At the beginning of my argumentation I said that this book is of old fashion. That's true, at least to some extent. However, I should say that, on the other hand, this feature also provides it with more value, because the contemporary student only rarely can find in his textbooks a complete solution to a given problem, including all the calculations. The modern texts are, not a single time, too abstract, and the student loses the contact with the concrete problems. This is why he can also benefit from the reading of this book. It is to be remarked the importance of the book for those interested in the history of fluid dynamics, because Lamb is very careful to attribute each result to the right person, but also for the perspective it offers on an important period for the development of hydrodynamics. It is, really, a classic.

To conclude, this is one of the most important reference books for all fluid dynamicists. I'm sure that any science library (if not any individual working in the field) would like to have a copy. Let me, also, say that the book includes a new foreword, by Professor Russel Caflisch, emphasizing the position of the book in the history of science and its importance for the contemporary science.