Introduction to Statistical Physics

May 27, 2010

Author: Kerson Huang

Edition: Second

Publisher: CRC Press/Taylor and Francis

Pages: 333

Price: £38.99, £29.99 and £25.99 (ebook)

ISBN 9781420079029, 9426 and 9780203484944 (ebook)

Statistical physics can be something of a bete noire for undergraduates. If approached mathematically without interpretation, the equations can easily obscure the underlying physical principles and render the subject incomprehensible to the average student.

This book is aimed at advanced undergraduates who have a background in classical and quantum theory. The title suggests that it is intended to provide an introduction to the subject. In fact, it provides a resume of classical thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, of quantum statistical mechanics, and a few advanced topics, including problems at the end of each of the 21 chapters, in just over 300 pages. Needless to say, to fit everything in, these subjects are taken at a pace approaching warp speed.

The book is laid out clearly. Each chapter focuses on one topic (thermodynamic potentials, stochastic processes, quantum statistics and so on), with references for further reading listed at the end. Within each chapter, subtopics are given in logical order, each occupying no more than a couple of pages, described succinctly and with proofs and illustrative figures. Indeed, some subtopics are described so succinctly, with so little explanation and physical interpretation, that they could be taken directly from lecture course notes. Unfortunately this means that the invaluable physical insights that an introductory text needs are missing. As proofs are also condensed, this is an introduction that can only be appreciated once one already has a background in the subject. It is not an approach that I personally find helpful, although it may suit more formally minded students.

The strength of this book is its inclusion of advanced topics such as superfluidity and superconductivity, which are not often dealt with in introductory texts with any rigour. Although these topics are also dealt with briefly, it is refreshing to find them discussed in the same spirit and at the same level as the introduction to statistical physics. However, one would need to work just as hard to understand these chapters as the earlier ones, so this strength may be appreciated only by more confident students.

This is not an introductory text, even for advanced undergraduates, and students looking for one would be better served by one of the many other excellent texts on the market (such as Franz Mandl's Statistical Physics (1971) and Keith Stowe's An Introduction to Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (2007)).

I would not recommend this as a set textbook unless it were to be used in conjunction with others.

Who is it for? Advanced undergraduates with a particular interest in the statistical physics underlying advanced topics.

Presentation: Clear layout, concise proofs, little physical interpretation.

Would you recommend it? Only as a library acquisition, but not as a single set text.

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