Where do all the socks go?

Colourful socks

Image source: USDA ARS via Wikimedia Commons

(Everyone is familiar with losing socks.  No matter how careful you are, or more precisely how careful you think you are, socks inexorably disappear.  Scientists have the same problem.  Or rather, in addition to the sock problem, scientists have a related problem: the disappearing book problem.  Typically, we don’t have a lot of books compared to scholars in the humanities, but the ones we have decrease in number over time.  I was thinking about this recently when I was asked to write a book review, and I enclose that review for Physics in Canada directly below.  Some of it is a little technical, for which I apologize for this forum, and heads up as well for a private joke: my PhD supervisor was Rashmi.)

I recently received a copy of the new book, “Dynamics of Self-Organized and Self-Assembled Structures” by Rashmi C. Desai and Raymond Kapral.  I am sad to say that I realized rapidly it will not be going on my book shelf.   It will instead join Landau and Lifshitz’s “Fluid Mechanics”, Forster’s “Hydrodynamic Fluctuations, Broken Symmetry, and Correlation Functions”, Frenkel’s “Kinetic Theory of Liquids”, and many other books I have owned.  I realized this when one of my graduate students saw me flipping through it, he asked innocently if he could borrow it.  I sighed – as I have many times before, and as my supervisor did when I posed the same question – and I said, sure, after I write the review.  This book will join all of my favorite books on the shelves of my present and former students and postdocs, and then move to the shelves of their students, and so on.

The book is a practical collection of topics in pattern formation, worked through step by step, or as the authors say: “…the presentation in this book provides the tools needed to analyze and understand the origins of various types of self-organized structure”.  One more or one less topic would not change the book appreciably.  Each topic is given a brief, even breezy discussion; the 31 chapters whip by in five or ten pages each, the whole book is done in a little over 300 pages.  But in the areas I understand best, I did not see anything essential missing.  Even better, the tricky things, at least the ones I am aware of, appear in full depth; the Lifshitz-Slozov theory is zipped through in a half dozen clear pages – better than the only other textbook version I know of in Lifshitz and  Pitaeveskii’s “Physical Kinetics” (a different Lifshitz).

The practicality of the book is its main merit, and was what brought the gleam to my graduate student’s eyes. The authors cover what they have worked on, but the focus is on the topics, not the significance of their own work: I do not see any settling of scores, polishing of apples, or blotting of copybooks.  There is no strong point of view, except the authors’ commitment to a professional treatment of each topic.

There were two things I did not see.  First, this is not a book for learning how to do numerical analysis, although many pictures are shown of the results of numerical simulation, and the authors clearly indicate that such simulation is a major part of understanding such systems.  There are many such books in any case.  Second, I had hoped the authors might share some background on nonequilibrium statistical mechanics per se, as these are two of the world’s experts.  There is hardly anything here about, for example, fluctuation-dissipation relations.  I suppose this would have weighed down their text with unnecessary exposition, and they preferred to focus on their interesting topic at hand.

Overall, I recommend this book.  It is a practical, no-nonsense cookbook which should be on the bookshelves of graduate students in this area.  I will do my part.

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