Statistical Mechanics Resources

Jul 20, 2019
By Jeffrey Chang

If you are interested in learning about stat mech and/or thermodynamics, I've compiled a list of my favorite resources. Of course, this list is far from complete—it is just a selection of the ones I've personally encountered. For good measure, I have also thrown in some (unwarranted) opinions.

I hope that someone online will find this list useful!

Callen's Thermodynamics

[Google Books] [Sketchy link to full text]

A classic textbook, with very good discussion in the beginning about the nature of equilibrium and how to think about thermodynamic systems and their variables. The writing style is formal and old-school but surprisingly approachable. I find it rather charming. But it's definitely not a light read, and involves some careful thinking and doing problems. At the end of the day I think it's rather rewarding, and it gives a good solid foundation.

The focus on thermo rather than stat mech, and the book makes it super clear that the power and generality of thermodynamics holds sway regardless of the exact realization of the underlying jiggling atoms—in this view, stat mech plays a backseat role as a physical rationale for entropy. But there's a fair argument that this traditional thermodynamic-centered view is a relic of steam-engine history. In today's world, perhaps, a pedagogically more enlightening (and relevant?) approach places the concrete statistical mechanics at the forefront, rather than the abstract manipulations of thermodynamic quantities.

Jim Sethna's Statistical Mechanics

[Website] [full pdf!]

A fun, lively, and modern textbook, filled with crystal-clear explanations and an insane amount of really good problems. In fact the text is somewhat minimal and sparse; most of the meat is honestly in the problems. And the nice thing is that the problems spread into all sorts of different domains—biology, statistics, finance, fractals, chaos, you name it. That's one of Jim's main selling points—to help spread the techniques and power of statistical physics to different disciplines, and embrace the power of computers, and so forth.

Dill and Bromberg's Molecular Driving Forces

[Google Books]

Accessible, intuitive, and reader-friendly, with good explanations. The focus is more on the biological and chemical world, and for this reason, I find that the authors are much better at getting to the physical essence of an equation than physicists are! Admittedly, I haven't looked back at this book for a few years, but I do remember being blown away by how clearly and intuitively it explained many of the key concepts, especially the idea of the Legendre Transform and the differences between the various thermodynamic potentials. I think this was the first book I really sat down with to learn the subject.

Shang-Keng Ma's Statistical Mechanics

[Google Books]

My personal favorite. Unorthodox and extremely careful about what all the concepts mean. The prose is clear, succint, and filled with fantastic one-liners. It's best read after you (think you've) learned statistical mechanics, because it gets you to think really hard about where everything actually comes from. The fundamental thesis is that statistical mechanics is the study of averages over time, which necessitates a timescale of observation. I enjoy this book immensely because the scientific thinking is so careful and deliberate—Ma discusses the caveats and implications of every assumption with impeccable thoroughness. Just be warned that his views are unorthodox!

Peter Eastman's Statistical Mechanics Notes


A clear and concsie set of notes. What else could you ask for?

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Last updated on Jan 9, 2019