soft question – Why do so many textbooks have so much technical detail and so little enlightenment? –


I often find that textbooks provide very little in the way of motivation or context. As a simple example, consider group theory. Every textbook I have seen that talks about groups (including some very basic undergrad level books) presents them as abstract algebraic structures (while providing some examples, of course), then spends a few dozen pages proving theorems, and then maybe in some other section of the book covers some Galois Theory. This really irks me. Personally I find it very difficult to learn a topic with no motivation, partly just because it bores me to death. And of course it is historically backwards; groups arose as people tried to solve problems they were independently interested in. They didn’t sit down and prove a pile of theorems about groups and then realize that groups had applications. It’s also frustrating because I have to be completely passive; if I don’t know what groups are for or why anyone cares about them, all I can do is sit and read as the book throws theorems at me.

This is true not just with sweeping big picture issues, but with smaller things too. I remember really struggling to figure out why it was supposed to matter so much which subgroups were closed under conjugation before finally realizing that the real issue was which subgroups can be kernels of homomorphisms, and the other thing is just a handy way to characterize them. So why not define normal subgroups that way, or at least throw in a sentence explaining that that’s what we’re really after? But no one does.