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Four Laws That Drive the Universe Hardcover – September 27, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0199232369 ISBN-10: 0199232369

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199232369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199232369
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

His engaging account...the lucid figures offer readers a firm understanding of energy and entropy. Science Concise, well-written, engaging and carefully structured... an enjoyable and informative read. Chemistry World Peter Atkins's account of the core concepts of thermodynamics is beautifully crafted. Simon Mitton, THES A brief and invigoratingly limpid guide to the laws of thermodynamics. Saturday Guardian Atkins's systematic foundations should go a long way towards easing confusion about the subject...an engaging book, just the right length (and depth) for an absorbing, informative read. Mark Haw, Nature [Atkins'] ultra-compact guide to thermodynamics [is] a wonderful book that I wish I had read at university. New Scientist

About the Author


Peter Atkins is Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Lincoln College. He is the author of nearly 60 books, which include Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science and the famed textbook Physical Chemistry (now in its eighth edition).

More About the Author

Peter Atkins was born in England in 1940 and went to the University of Leicester for his first degree (in chemistry) and his PhD (1964). After a year in UCLA as a Harkness Fellow he went to Oxford University as lecturer in physical chemistry and Fellow of Lincoln College, where he remained until his retirement in 2007. Some retirement! He continues to write books, which now number close to 70 with more on the way. He was the founding chairman of IUPAC's Committee on Chemistry Education, which is charged with bringing good practice in the teaching of chemistry, especially in developing countries, and has been a visiting professor in Japan, China, Israel, France, and New Zealand. He continues to lecture widely, both on aspects of chemical education and on the communication of science to the general public. He lives near Oxford.

Customer Reviews

Atkin's book discusses the strange principles of thermodynamics.
Sanford Aranoff
Very little space is devoted to historical background, resulting in a book that is dense with scientific detail.
G. Poirier
As a material science student, I used to find thermodynamics concept very difficult to understand.
A. T. Wicaksono

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 60 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on October 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This little book (124 pages of main text) contains an absolute gold mine of information on thermodynamics. With a minimum amount of mathematics, this captivating field is extremely well summarized and presented in a most elegant prose. Very little space is devoted to historical background, resulting in a book that is dense with scientific detail. As with most such books, some parts are a bit tough going and may need to be read more than once (as I did) for the points presented to better sink in. The author is truly gifted in explaining potentially difficult concepts, rendering them lucid, well-described and even quite exciting. Many practical examples are presented to illustrate the application of many (what many would call) very abstract concepts. Because of the very technical quantitative nature of its contents, I believe that this charming book can best be enjoyed by serious science buffs, by university students who would like an excellent complement to their main thermodynamics texts, and by scientists who would like a refresher on a subject that they loved in university but may never have used since.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By J. Price on December 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This little book is a gem - concise, bright, and (very) valuable. It is a model of what serious science or technical writing intended for a wide audience should be. Concepts are introduced deliberately, with adequate explanation and lucid examples. There is just enough math to make you want more. I am going to take a guess that a part of the reason this book is so satisfying is that Atkins, unlike some of his famous peers, had a reader in mind as he puts the words down on paper.

Atkins makes classical thermodynamics intelligible and interesting. I only wish that this little book had been around when I was trying to learn these concepts in college.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Kenneth T. Bastin MD on March 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I admire Dr Atkins -- his pivotal textbook "Physical Chemistry" was adopted by my college professor years ago when I took P-Chem -- was rigorous and challenging. However, this small book, readable in about four hours, attempts to overview the laws of thermodynamics in a conversational and non-mathematical manner. I think many points are well made, supplemented with minimal diagrams and tables. I am confused however as to whom this book was written: hard core readers can easily find calculus based textbooks to explore these topics, and casual readers can read about thermodynamics in a general science textbook. By trying to reach out to both reader groups, the author doesn't really satisfy either. I think the interested reader should hold out for the paperback version compared to this overpriced and petite hardcover book.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Oliver P. Cornell on October 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you want to understand the laws of thermodynamics and willing to put some effort into it, then this is the book for you. Every culturally literate individual needs to know about this subject area. Peter Atkins has been writing in this area for a long time, so he really does know of what he writes. It's a little book; very easy to carry around and re-read as time permits.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rafael Olivas on June 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
To be fair, Atkins sets himself a difficult task: make thermodynamics palatable, and even tasty, to a general audience. I probably represent his target audience: I am college educated, and I worked for a couple of years as a biochemistry technician. I keep up with science topics through Scientific American and several web sites. And I enjoy the Science Channel whenever the cosmology shows are on. But I don't possess deep physics knowledge, save for dimly remembered college physics and chemistry courses.

Does Atkins succeed? Mostly yes, but I must offer some caveats. This text does presume some relevant background at the college level. And, although Atkins' prose is readable, he occasionally misses a tone and examples that might better hold the reader's interest. Still, on balance, the presentation works, and at least stays focused on preparing the main ingredients.

Where does Atkins get soggy? He only rarely capitalizes on the wow factor. He says that thermodynamics is relevant to each and every one of us in our lives. He's right. But his examples are a bit lifeless and the allusions to "regular life" are few. When he does bring levity and relevance, it resonates rather well. But the reader is left to bring his or her own imagination to the text and create most such insights for oneself. As I am also an artist, technical writer, and recently a business analyst, I found many "ah ha!" moments to ponder. But these were mostly of my own making, with only the barest guidance from the author.

Finally, what's missing? Atkins might have alluded more thoroughly to the world of information theory. He only hints about this fascinating subject. Atkins might have explored the micro-states of matter with more gusto.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Regnal on January 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let me quote Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington here:
"The law that entropy always increase..(lots about it in Atkins book)..-the second law of thermodynamics - HOLDS, I think, the supreme position among the Laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations - then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observers - well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation".

Professor Atkins delivers short but kaleidoscopic and effective lecture just about above mentioned conviction. Lecture will be useful for many - students as well as for readers who left school long time ago (this is me) but like to get into popular cosmology/physics books with clear understanding of the most important topic in science - thermodynamics.
It is worth to mention briefly here, that the original formulation of the second law is not the ultimate truth. This book teaches only about classical thermodynamics, where actually systems are in equilibrium (nothing changes). Professor Atkins admits it in Conclusion at the end. But there is also non-equilibrium, linear thermodynamics that applies to things moving towards equilibrium (dissipative processes like thermodiffusion) and the fourth thermodynamics law (called "reciprocal relations") as a corollary of it. John Gribbin sheds some light on it in his fascinating and highly recommended popular-science new book : "Deep Simplicity - Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity".
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