Caught between truth and beauty

Atkins' Physical Chemistry. Eighth Edition

February 23, 2007

Entropic forces generated by new discoveries and ideas have shaken some scientific disciplines into disparate parts in danger of losing contact with each other. Although chemistry has been subjected to monstrous strains from novel biology on one side and materials science on another, to name two, it has retained its integrity and health. In part, chemistry's coherence is due to the grip of major physical principles reaching tendon-like through the substructure to impose a dynamic order.

Atkins' Physical Chemistry brings an understanding of how energy, entropy and symmetry, harnessed through the laws of thermodynamics, kinetics and quantum mechanics, connect, unify and make intelligible the vast chemical canvas. Peter Atkins and Julio de Paula are convinced of the "absolute centrality of mathematics to physical chemistry". According to Bertrand Russell: "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture." The clarity of the writing in Atkins' eighth edition, together with the colourful and superbly executed graphs and diagrams, go a long way to demonstrating the truth of Russell's dictum. The book covers all the main physical chemical topics mentioned and groups them in three major sections on equilib-rium, structure and change.

The text has been reorganised from previous editions to make it as flexible and up to date as possible. New sections on spectroscopy, computational chemistry and materials chemistry have been included, not forgetting the obligatory homage to nanoscientific concepts. A series of "impact" sections highlight how physical chemical principles are applied in biology, materials and the environment. The text is supplemented by an impressive variety of instructional devices such as checklists of key ideas, discussion questions, exercises, problems, notes on good practice and molecular interpretation sections showing how abstract principles apply to atomic and molecular behaviour. The appendices, containing mathematical equations and techniques, as well as extensive tables of thermody-namic and structural data, ensure the book is a valuable reference resource.

Each book supplies an access code to an online resource centre with additional materials. The target audience will continue to be undergraduates in chemistry, biochemistry and chemical engineering. The high quality will ensure this book continues worldwide as the premier purveyor of coherence and intelligibility in physical chemistry.

John C. Walton is professor of reactive chemistry, St Andrews University.

Atkins' Physical Chemistry. Eighth Edition

Author - Peter Atkins and Julio de Paula
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 1,064
Price - £39.99
ISBN - 0 19 870072 2

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