I'm a junior undergraduate in physics & materials science. I've had half of a course in quantum mechanics taught out of Townsend's book (We've gone from beginnings of matrix mechanics to the harmonic oscillator) as well as all the other undergraduate physics courses. I'm interested in the physics of systems considered in the discipline of soft condensed matter and would like to spend my winter break learning about such things like any decent human being would. Anyways, I find that the only way I can really learn something is through self study, self study done with an extremely well written text that is. Preferably one that does not skim over derivations, includes interesting applications, comes packed with useful problems for every chapter, has little to no mistakes of any kind, is modern, and is written in such a style that anyone reading it would have to come to the conclusion that the author must be a great teacher (and a great physicist). Too much to ask? I'll bet no. Let's see what the community has to say about this.

Edit - The book I've currently been recommended is the Oxford Master Series one. Unfortunately, my university's only copy has been checked out until May of 2016. I'm hoping the inter-library loan comes through but it is the holiday season after all. Just to clarify, I'm still looking for a possibly better book.

Edit - Going to let this post sit for another day or two. At which point I'll accept an answer. 12/23/2015

Regarding the possibility of this being a repost. I've only seen a plethora of posts on condensed, but not soft condensed matter physics books. (Though if you have one that is just so good you must share it, please do so.)

  • $\begingroup$ You are not even asking the right science department. Biological molecules belong into biochemistry, not physics. You may find something reasonably physical about polymers and such and you can do a few studies about mechanical properties (e.g. folding) of large proteins, but there is not much "hard" physical theory beyond that. Why should there be? Physics deals with a certain layer of (either simple or mostly homogeneous) natural systems. Beyond that come chemistry, biology, geology etc. for the more complex inhomogeneous ones. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ I'm aware of the content of soft condensed matter. That's why I wrote complex systems like biological molecules. I realize that's a broad statement, but it's not the point of the post. $\endgroup$
    – lthermin
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 3:25
  • $\begingroup$ And that's why I said you are in the wrong department. Soft condensed matter is not primarily about biological molecules. If you are interested in biochemistry, then you need to ask the biologists. If you are interested in soft condensed matter, then you will be learning about polymers, liquid crystals, colloids and such. Are you primarily interested in biological molecules or just weakly bound non-biological ones? As for your book woes... I usually bought mine, if I wanted them. Amazon can probably deliver within a few days. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ I think the confusion is about terminology and not intent. Yes, polymers and the like is what I'm going for. I've checked this table of contents before amazon.com/Condensed-Matter-Oxford-Master-Physics/dp/0198505892 I'll edit my post. $\endgroup$
    – lthermin
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 3:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I realize that I've argued that resource recommendations should be off topic, but given it's current +3/-3 status while ACuriousMind's answer is +11/-2, I don't think VTC this type of question was accepted by the community. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 10:22

1 Answer 1


Suggested General Reference

Principles of Condensed Matter Physics, by P. M. Chaikin & Tom Lubensky, is an excellent resource for learning soft matter physics.

It is a clear, surprisingly self-contained exposition to advanced topics in statistical physics and their applications, as well as dynamical critical phenomena, hydrodynamics, topological defects, and interface phenomena (e.g. the 'roughening transition' for solid-fluid interfaces). This is a graduate level book.

Additional general references (mainly statistical mechanics)

Entropy, Order Parameters, and Complexity, by James Sethna, is highly readable, contains many thoughtful exercises, and is free on the author's website.

Phase transitions and Renormalization Group, by Jean Zinn-Justin, gives a more concise, mathematical treatment of renormalization group methods, as well as the canonical topics of statistical field theory. This book also has many instructive examples.

Statistical Mechanics of Phase Transitions, by J. M. Yeomans, is short, but gives a great conceptual overview of theoretical techniques in the analysis of phase transitions.

The statistical mechanics textbooks by Mehran Kardar (Statistical Physics of Particles/Fields) are phenomenal. The second volume gives a comprehensive treatment of field theoretical methods, and has a nice chapter on directed polymers in random media and stochastic growth models. Both books include many interesting problems.

Polymer physics

Introduction to Path Integral Methods in Physics and Polymer Science, by F. W. Wiegel. An introduction to standard models of polymers, and path integral methods more generally. Very well written, (but lacks exercises).

Scaling Concepts in Polymer Physics, by P. G. De Gennes,

Introduction to Polymer Dynamics, also by De Gennes.

  • $\begingroup$ The James Sethna looks really interesting and now that I know it's free online I'm certainly more inclined to get into it. Also, I'm going to check out the book by Chaikin and Lubensky while I wait for the Oxford Master Series on Condensed Matter. I've read that the book is a good reference but has many spots where some extrapolation is needed. Not that that's always a bad thing. Anyways, good answer, useful suggestions. Thank you. $\endgroup$
    – lthermin
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 2:01

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