The central theme of this text is the systematic definition and application of descriptors for the specification of structure for the non-crystalline, liquid-crystalline, and crystalline states. This is not my opinion; it is the mission statement of the authors. But I endorse it, because I believe they have succeeded.
It was not until the 1860s that the crystalline nature of metals was first recognised. With the development of X-ray diffraction nearly half a century later the atomic arrangement of atoms in crystals could begin to be elucidated. An appreciation of crystalline structure lies behind most materials science, and almost all of solid-state physics. It is therefore appropriate that the longest chapter in the book is devoted to the crystalline state. Most people find visualisation in three dimensions extraordinarily difficult. Many textbooks move to 3-D much too early, thereby doing a great disservice to their readers. Samuel Allen and Edwin Thomas first introduce all the key ideas in 2-D, giving plenty of help in assimilating the concepts before moving on to 3-D. This is the right approach.
Although the crystalline state is relatively ubiquitous, it is by no means the only state in which condensed matter can exist. There are chapters on the noncrystalline and the liquid-crystalline states, presenting excellent accounts of the principles necessary for describing the structure of materials such as glasses and polymers. No structure is perfect - indeed the defects make materials more interesting - and there is a chapter on point, line, and surface imperfections. Every basic topic that I expected to find in the index is included, with clear and succinct explanations at every point in the story where they belonged.
It may well be that old classics of crystallography like Kelly and Groves no longer meet the need of the present undergraduate. If that is so, then maybe here is the textbook to replace them. It includes plenty of problems.
Like every classic it can be read at different levels. It is fully suitable for first-year undergraduates, and yet a student who bought it in his first year would find more in it in each succeeding year of his studies - and beyond. It will prove a sound investment; I recommend it.
Andrew Briggs is professor of materials, University of Oxford.
The Structure of Materials. First Edition
Author - Samuel M. Allen and Edwin L. Thomas
ISBN - 0 471 00082 5
Publisher - Wiley
Price - £40.95
Pages - 447