Grant Ritchie reviews this beautifully presented teaching text

Elements of physical chemistry (6th edn)
Peter Atkins and Julio de Paula
Oxford University Press
2012 | 624pp | £34.99 (PB)
ISBN 9780199608119

Cover of Elements of physical chemistry (6th edn)

Since Physical chemistry first appeared in 1978, Peter Atkins has established himself as the premier author of undergraduate physical chemistry textbooks. Now in its 9th edition, it has been widely adopted as the core teaching book for undergraduate courses. Such is the dominance of Physical chemistry as a teaching text, I had not previously considered using Elements of physical chemistry by the same authors.

Elements is beautifully presented - the figures are clear, the formatting is elegant and the use of examples and information boxes well thought out. On a psychological level, its length and compact size make it perhaps a less forbidding tome than Physical chemistry. The high expectations set by the book’s presentation is more than matched by its content: the text is delivered in the clear and authoritative style that one expects from Atkins and this is certainly not a diluted text.

The authors have endeavoured to make the subject matter more accessible by reducing the amount of mathematics presented, but have still retained an emphasis that physical chemistry is a quantitative subject. In this respect, the authors have the balance pretty much spot on, providing mathematical toolkits at appropriate points throughout the text. A roadmap of key equations is also included at the end of each chapter. Importantly, each chapter also contains a selection of discussion questions. It is certainly this reviewers’ experience that while many students can proficiently use mathematics to solve chemical problems, they still often struggle with conceptual questions, a consequence being that they cannot decide which equation is appropriate for the specific problem at hand.

This is a first rate text, which rigorously covers all of the core physical chemistry material that undergraduates should know for at least the first two years of a chemistry degree in the UK. I am not sure that Elements will supplant Physical chemistry as the primary teaching text, at least in the near future, but think that it is ideal for both general chemistry and interdisciplinary courses, and will do particularly well in the US market. This is a thoroughly modern physical chemistry text and I recommend it to all undergraduate chemists and their teachers.

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