15+ Best Physical Chemistry Books for Undergraduates

Physical Chemistry is the branch of chemistry that deals with the principles of physics involved in chemical reactions and examines the following:

  • How do chemical reactions take place?
  • How does matter behave on a molecular and atomic level?

The discoveries of physical chemists are based on understanding chemical properties and describing their behavior with the help of physical theories and mathematical computations.

Physical chemistry plays an important role in the understanding of complex processes and molecules characteristic of modern materials and biological systems. It is a great field for chemists who have a natural curiosity about the phenomena that take place at the atomic level and like working with sophisticated laboratory instrumentation and machines.

If you have been planning to pursue a degree in physical chemistry, then you need to ensure that you choose a renowned and standard textbook to study from. By doing so, you will be able to develop a good understanding of the various concepts involved in the subject. In this article, I have listed the fifteen best physical chemistry books for undergraduates presently available in the market.

Best Physical Chemistry Books for Undergraduates

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In this section, you can go through my choices for the fifteen best physical chemistry books available for undergraduate students. I have provided the individual links to purchase each book as well.

Also see: The best Organic Chemistry books and the best Inorganic Chemistry books.

1. Elements of Physical Chemistry

Author – Peter Atkins and Julio de Paula

Elements of Physical Chemistry has been written meticulously to help students gain confidence in using mathematics and physics to answer basic questions about the structure of molecules, the behavior of materials, and the processes behind chemical reactions. With a visually dazzling design and layout, it provides extensive pedagogical and mathematical support while staying accessible and concise at the same time.

In the latest edition, the authors have reorganized the content into shorter topics, which are further grouped into thematic “focuses” for the convenience of both students and instructors. At the beginning of every topic, you will find three questions that illustrate the importance of that topic, what its key idea is, and what knowledge you’re expected to have already.

2. Physical Chemistry

Author – Robert J. Silbey, Robert A. Alberty, and Moungi G. Bawendi (Author)

First published in 1913, this Physical Chemistry book is still considered to be a highly effective and relevant learning tool for students. Every new edition of the book has benefited from the suggestions and expert advice of renowned physical chemists from all across the globe. This newly revised and updated edition by Silbey, Alberty, and Bawendi continues the tradition of presenting crystal clear explanations of methods and concepts.

In the book, we get to see the basic theory of chemistry from the viewpoint of academic physical chemists. However, comprehensive discussions of practical applications are integrated throughout the text as well. The problems featured in the book also masterfully blend theory and applications as well.

3. Understanding Physical Chemistry

Author – Dor Ben-Amotz

Dor Ben-Amotz’s Understanding Physical Chemistry takes a unique approach to teach physical chemistry by focusing greatly on core ideas, such as the quantum states that dictate the colors and structures of atoms and molecules and the entropic forces that govern all chemical processes in nature. At fewer than 400 pages, it is an elegantly concise textbook that aims to help readers develop a deep understanding of physical chemistry.

Remarkably, it focuses exclusively on ideas that most people consider to be either too important or too interesting to exclude. The author demystifies these core ideas by explaining their origins, the logic behind them, and how one may apply them to understand topics ranging from chemical reactivity and molecular spectroscopy to liquid computer simulation strategies and biological self-assembly.

Also, the book provides insight into the scientific discovery process by highlighting the personal perspectives and struggles of notable personalities in the field such as Einstein, Gibbs, and Schrödinger.

4. Schaum’s Outline of Physical Chemistry

Author – Clyde Metz

Schaum's Outline of Physical Chemistry is just what you need to brush up the concepts of physical chemistry. With the help of this book, you can cut study time, sharpen your problem-solving skills, and perform exceptionally well in exams. For that very reason, the book has gained a lot of popularity among students.

Schaum's high-performance study guide gives you the necessary details that your teachers expect you to know in a handy and succinct format, without burdening you with redundant details. It gives you a wholesome overview of physical chemistry along with 704 fully solved practice exercises to test your skills.

The book is readily compatible with any regular textbook, lets you study at your own pace, and constantly reminds you of all the important facts you need to remember. Although the book is mainly aimed at undergraduates, it is also helpful to students preparing for graduate or professional exams.

5. Physical Chemistry: How Chemistry Works

Author – Kurt W. Kolasinski

Physical Chemistry: How Chemistry Works is a unique book that takes a refreshing approach to teaching in physical chemistry. It is a modern textbook that has been designed to excite and engage undergraduates and show them how to masterfully employ the techniques of physical chemistry in real life.

The author takes a student-friendly approach and provides various practical examples to facilitate an understanding of the physical-chemical aspects of any system. This allows students of all branches of chemistry to become well-versed with the essentials of physical chemistry in order to understand the concepts behind intermolecular interactions, the synthesis of materials, and their properties.

The textbook also facilitates further study for physical chemistry enthusiasts by getting them acquainted with the frontiers of research.

6. Physical Chemistry (Topics in Physical Chemistry)

Author – R. Stephen Berry, Stuart A. Rice, and John Ross

Physical Chemistry is a remarkably comprehensive and yet crisp treatment of the fundamental principles of physical chemistry. Written by three renowned physical chemists, it is one of the most reliable physical chemistry references available today. The authors have presented the basics of the three major areas of physical chemistry - the microscopic structure of matter, the equilibrium properties of systems, and the physical and chemical kinetics of transformations of systems - in a logical sequence.

The book begins by discussing atomic and molecular structure, and progresses to the properties of condensed matter and the statistical and thermodynamic properties of systems in equilibrium. It then describes transport phenomena and chemical reaction processes. Speaking of the book's mathematical level, it begins with elementary calculus and proceeds to the use of simple properties of partial differential equations and the special functions that enter into their solutions.

The authors have taken care to emphasize the conceptual structure of physical chemistry throughout the text. With the help of appendices, they develop the details of the mathematical tools as required.

7. Principles of Physical Chemistry

Author – David H. Waldeck, Hans Kuhn, Horst-Dieter Försterling

Principles of Physical Chemistry presents an innovative approach to physical chemistry that focuses on the use of a few fundamental principles to quantitatively describe the nature of molecules and their assemblies. It starts by using the electron-in-a-box model to illustrate the core features of quantum mechanics and explains why atoms and molecules exist.

The authors haven’t introduced thermodynamics in a classical manner, considering the first and second law as postulates, but approached by studying assemblies of molecules statistically. They then proceed to molecular assemblies of increasing complexity, evolving from ideal gases to real gases and solutions, onto macromolecules and supramolecular machines, and finally ending with the search for the logical conditions and chemical requirements for physicochemical processes leading to life's origin, the emergence of matter that carries information.

The book is a great choice for both undergraduate and graduate courses in physical chemistry. It provides a sound basis for understanding the nature of chemical processes in chemistry, biology, and engineering alike.

8. Physical Chemistry: A Molecular Approach

Author – Donald A. McQuarrie and John D. Simon (Author)

Physical Chemistry: A Molecular Approach is the first contemporary physical chemistry textbook to cover quantum mechanics before thermodynamics and kinetics. It provides a modern and engaging approach to the study of physical chemistry. Beginning with quantum chemistry, readers will learn about the most fundamental principles upon which the foundations of all physical chemistry rest.

The book includes a unique set of "MathChapters" to review and summarize the mathematical tools required to master the concepts of physical chemistry. The authors teach thermodynamics simultaneously from a bulk and microscopic viewpoint, enabling students to understand how bulk properties of materials are related to the properties of individual constituent molecules. The latest edition of the book includes a variety of modern research topics in physical chemistry, along with hundreds of worked problems and examples.

9. Physical Chemistry for the Chemical and Biological Sciences

Author – Raymond Chang

Acclaimed for his clear writing style and careful pedagogical approach, Raymond Chang has delivered yet another masterpiece in chemical education. Readers all across the world have praised Physical Chemistry for the Chemical and Biological Sciences as a relatively warm and gentle text on physical chemistry. It efficiently meets the requirements of a one-semester course or a full-year course in physical chemistry.

The book is an excellent choice for classes intended for pre-medical and life sciences students as well. For these students, it opens the door to physical chemistry from a unique perspective that they can appreciate. The text offers a wide range of applications to chemical and biological problems, several chapter-ending exercises, and an accompanying solutions manual as well.

10. Physical Chemistry

Author – David W. Ball

Physical Chemistry takes an easy-to-read approach and focuses on core topics of physical chemistry. It provides a concise and yet detailed examination of calculus-based physical chemistry. The second edition, designed to serve as a learning tool for students who want to learn physical chemistry in a relevant and functional manner, follows a more traditional organization.

It now focuses much more on thermochemistry and introduces new problems, new two-column examples, and a dynamic new four-color design. David W. Ball, an experienced educator and researcher in chemistry, has also included a review of calculus applications as applied to physical chemistry.

11. Basic Physical Chemistry: The Route To Understanding

Author – E. Brian Smith

Basic Physical Chemistry is an elegant book that provides a student-friendly introduction to the subject of physical chemistry. Coming from the author of the very successful Basic Chemical Thermodynamics, it has been written in the same engaging style. The text is much more concise and compact than standard textbooks on the subject. It focuses on the two important topics underpinning the subject - the second law of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics.

Because of their focus on uncertainty and probability, students tend to find both these topics quite challenging. The book clearly explains these basic concepts and shows how they provide the key to understanding a wide range of chemical phenomena such as the structure and properties of solids, liquids and gases, atomic and molecular spectra, chemical equilibrium and the rates of chemical reactions.

12. Physical Chemistry for Engineering and Applied Sciences

Author – Frank R. Foulkes

Renowned author Frank R. Foulkes has written Physical Chemistry for Engineering and Applied Sciences with experience gained from thirty years of teaching first-year Physical Chemistry as part of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto. The book has been tailored to be both detailed and compatible with a first-year student’s ability to understand. It presents comprehensive, stepwise derivations of equations that permit the student to follow the underlying logic and appreciate any mathematical tricks employed or simplifying assumptions made.

Apart from 600 exercises and end-of-chapter problems, the text featured solved non-trivial examples, many of which are designed to be inspiring and thought-provoking. Its stepwise derivation of all equations allows the student to follow the process smoothly. It can be understood quite easily even by students with moderate skills and backgrounds in mathematics.

13. Principles of Physical Chemistry: Understanding Atoms, Molecules and Supramolecular Machines

Author – Hans Kuhn and Horst-Dieter Försterling

Principles of Physical Chemistry by Kuhn and Försterling helps students gain a solid foundation in the basics of physical chemistry, including statistical mechanics/thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. It allows students to develop an intuitive understanding of the subject, along with skill in quantitative manipulations. Its treatment of larger molecular systems is especially noteworthy

The authors lend a firm but gentle hand to take you through numerous organized molecular assemblies, including supramolecular systems and models of the origin of life. By getting acquainted with some of the most productive areas of contemporary chemical research, you will gain a newfound appreciation of the field and find it to be the most exciting and rewarding profession.

14. Physical Chemistry

Author – Robert G. Mortimer

The third edition of Robert Mortimer’s Physical Chemistry features additional core applications along with more recent developments in the theories of chemical reaction kinetics, molecular quantum mechanics, and the experimental study of extremely rapid chemical reactions.

The book aims to make the learning process easier for students with the help of stepwise explanations of fundamental principles, an appropriate level of mathematical precision, and pedagogical tools to enhance comprehension. It encourages readers to learn how to apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations.

15. Physical Chemistry

Author – Ira N. Levine

The sixth edition of Physical Chemistry by Ira Levine offers a detailed and fundamental treatment of physical chemistry. Simultaneously, the text is made easy to follow with the help of complete stepwise derivations, clear explanations and the avoidance of advanced mathematics unfamiliar to students. Necessary mathematical and physical techniques are given in a comprehensive review section, and solved examples are followed by a practice exercise.

16. A Textbook of Physical Chemistry: Dynamics of Chemical Reactions, Statistical Thermodynamics and Macromolecules (SI Units)

Author – K. L. Kapoor

This book is the fifth of a comprehensive six-volume series by acclaimed author K. L. Kapoor. It provides a detailed coverage of the vast discipline of physical chemistry. Each volume in the series features a large number of illustrative numerical problems and typical questions to highlight the concepts involved. The author has taken care to use IUPAC recommendations and SI units throughout the text.


Physical chemistry is an expansive branch of science that finds applications in various disciplines. Thus, undergraduates pursuing a degree in this field have a lot to gain by following any of the standard textbooks listed in this article. I hope you choose a good one that helps you not only earn your degree but develop a deep understanding and profound appreciation of the subject.

Last update on 2024-06-18 using Amazon Product Advertising API.