A step in the right direction to make physical chemistry more accessible

Physical chemistry  

Thomas Engel and Philip Read 

Pearson Education | 2007 | 1000pp | ?48.99 (SB) | ISBN 9781405823913 

Reviewed by Tony Stace

Probably the first question to ask in such a review is ’Do we need yet another physical chemistry textbook?’ My answer would be yes if it can attempt to make physical chemistry more accessible. In part, this book by Engel and Reid is a step in that direction. It makes good use of diagrams to illustrate basic principles; in fact several were new to me and certainly offered an alternative perspective to quite fundamental phenomena. 

The authors have also provided a large number of worked problems - many of which connect to real life. One such problem uses Henry’s law to discuss the occurrence of the bends in deep sea divers. 

In addition, many of the chapters include supplement sections, where basic material is placed within the context of modern experiment and theory. A particularly good example here is the chapter covering NMR, where imaging and other advanced scanning techniques are discussed. 

However, there are certain aspects to the book that detract from this initial appeal. The authors quite rightly do not shy away from the more mathematical aspects of physical chemistry, but when chapter 3 launches straight into the mathematical properties of state functions, it is clear that the book is not going to find favour with first-year chemistry students. A second, more disappointing feature is that the highly commendable supplements do not extend to all chapters. The chapters on kinetics and photochemistry would have been so much better for a supplement on femtochemistry. 

Overall, the standard of production of the book is excellent - the writing has a relaxed style that makes for easy reading and is complemented with attractive diagrams and illustrative problems. Whether or not it can compete with the seven other physical chemistry text books sitting on my bookshelf remains to be seen.