The aim is to produce a book to accompany teaching physical chemistry according to this philosophy

Quanta, matter, and change

Peter Atkins, Julio de Paula, and Ronald Friedman 

Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2008 | 816pp | ?39.99 (SB) 

ISBN 9780199206063 

Reviewed by Peter Taylor 


This is a splendid book. True to the authors’ philosophy as outlined in the preface, it approaches physical chemistry by first developing the quantum theory of molecular electronic structure, then by statistical arguments moves into thermodynamics, and thence to kinetics. Spectroscopy of various types, the electronic structure of solids, and the rudiments of molecular symmetry are all treated along the way, and the overall presentation is masterly, with sub-sections devoted to current illustrations of particular topics, chapter summaries, numerous exercises, and extensive useful tabular material, all within the book, to say nothing of the web resources that are also available. 

The aim is to produce a book to accompany teaching physical chemistry according to this philosophy, which is something of a novelty, and one might ask whether this is a desirable or useful approach, as opposed for example to teaching thermodynamics and kinetics to some extent independently of one another and certainly independent of quantum chemistry, which is the common strategy. 

The authors do a fine job of presenting the subjects in a connected, logical way - this approach to physical chemistry has a great deal to recommend it. This book in turn has a great deal to recommend it as an accompanying text. 

One can point to minor omissions or disappointments: the authors focus almost exclusively on Boltzmann statistics and although Fermi-Dirac statistics get a mention Bose-Einstein does not (that I could find), which is a pity for several reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity to point out the difference a change of sign can make! 

The concept of a spin Hamiltonian is mentioned only in an exercise, despite an extensive chapter on magnetic resonance spectroscopies. And for readers not in their first youth the difference between script and italic fonts - a significant part of their notation - is well-nigh invisible. 

But these are trivial complaints: the authors have done a wonderful job and produced a text it will be a delight to teach from. I cannot recommend it too highly.