A mixture of abstract ideas and unfamiliar mathematics can make students' first encounter with statistical mechanics difficult. A. M. Glazer and J. S. Wark have condensed years of teaching experience into a brief book in which they attempt to introduce the basic concepts and ideas without unnecessary mathematical complications.
The book is targeted at students who have little background in quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. It is as though the authors put a calming hand on the reader's shoulder and talk in a soothing voice - for example, "although you may not have thought of it in this way before..." - which will appease some students and will probably infuriate others.
The book is constructed with great care and with plenty of worked-out problems. The most basic statistical mechanics - such as Boltzmann, Fermi-Dirac and Bose-Einstein statistics, electrons, phonons, phase space and ensembles - is covered in 11 chapters. The book introduces what might be considered the absolute minimum knowledge and does this in a very straightforward manner. Any student with an introductory understanding of calculus will be able to follow the authors' explanation through the book.
If the student also solves the problems, resisting the temptation to read the solutions, a good foundation will be acquired.
Those topics included in standard textbooks are left out. Most conspicuous is the lack of any reference to phase transitions and therefore also to key methods such as mean field theory. The reason for this is to make the book easier to digest. The drawback is that an enthusiastic student wanting to read ahead will need to get hold of yet another book.
Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen is professor of mathematical physics, Imperial College London.
Statistical Mechanics: A Survival Guide
Author - A. M. Glazer and J. S. Wark
ISBN - 0 19 850815 8 and 850816 6
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £40.00 and £18.95
Pages - 156