Some topics in upper division physics courses are quite abstract, and can be hard to understand upon first encountering them. Sometimes, an explanation in one book may simply be insufficient, or may not suit your own personal learning habits well. As you progress in the sciences, you will increasingly need to sometimes seek additional information from external sources in order to complete your understanding – this is not a failure on your part, but a normal part of the learning process. Often, a search for online resources can help, but as you take classes in more and more specialized topics, you will find that comprehensive discussions can often only be found in lengthier books.
Your textbook has a long list of books worth seeking out to help you understand thermal physics. In addition, here are some of the texts that have helped me personally improve my understanding of thermal physics in the past:
Books below the level of this course:
- Feynman, Richard P., Leighton, Robert B., & Sands, Matthew, 1963, The Feynman Lectures on Physics (New Millennium edition, Basic Books). The chapters on thermodynamics are very clear, if a bit basic.
- Reif, F., 1967, Statistical Physics: Berkeley Physics Course, Vol. 5 (McGraw Hill). This book is…not bad. It’s kinda a simplified version of another book by Reif (1965) which is more advanced and kinda awful to read. This one is lower level, commonly known as the “Baby Reif.”
Books at the level of this course:
- Blundell, Stephen J., & Blundell, Katherine M. 2009, Concepts in Thermal Physics, (2nd ed., Oxford University Press). Designed for a course similar to ours, this is a very easy to read textbook for the basic concepts, but it is lacking in discussion of applications. I caution against reading the first edition, however; it has an unusually large number of typos and other printing errors - check the errata if you use it.
- Bowley, R., & Sanchez, M., 2000, Introductory Statistical Mechanics (2nd ed., Clarendon Press).
- Carter, Ashley H. 2000, Classical and Statistical Thermodynamics (Prentice Hall). Designed for a course similar to ours, this text has an excellent treatment of classical thermodynamics, but I find its treatment of statistical mechanics lacking.
- Gould, Harvey, & Tobochnik, Jan, 2010, Statistical and Thermal Physics (Princeton University Press). I haven’t personally read this book, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it has a free online version at http://stp.clarku.edu/notes/.
Books above the level of this course:
- Pathria, R. K., & Beale, Paul D., 2011, Statistical Mechanics (Academic Press). One of the standard, graduate-level, systematic treatments of statistical mechanics.
Books you should probably avoid:
- Landau, L. D., \& Lifshitz, E. M., 1980, Statistical Physics (Pergamon Press). You’ll see lots of people online, and sometimes hear professors, say that the Landau & Lifshitz series on physics is the definitive set of physics texts. They are miserably hard to read and basically impossible to learn from.