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58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, Accessible and Charming
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,...
Published on October 31, 2007 by G. Poirier

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy read, but unclear in purpose
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...
Published on March 11, 2009 by Dr. Kenneth T. Bastin MD


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58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, Accessible and Charming, October 31, 2007
By 
G. Poirier (Orleans, ON, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A science gem, December 2, 2007
This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (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
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy read, but unclear in purpose, March 11, 2009
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book For The Non-Scientist, October 25, 2007
By 
Oliver P. Cornell (Granite Bay, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Can thermodynamics be made tasty?, June 14, 2008
By 
Rafael Olivas (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (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. Also barely mentioned was the notion of efficiency, although at a micro level this has great meaning for those working in nanotechnology. And there was no indication of how such principles must also apply to the living world, the systems we call organisms. For my money, some appetizers and desserts would have engendered more enthusiasm from this reader.

Nevertheless, I found the book helpful, readable, and generally enjoyable. And that is no small thing for such a subject. If I don't grant it five stars, it's not because of what is there, but rather what is not.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific literacy presented., January 27, 2008
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Hardcover)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite thermodynamics for the layman, September 20, 2009
By 
Lance C. Hibbeler (Hillsboro, OR, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Hardcover)
Thermodynamics is by no means an easy subject to understand, with all its abstractness and subtleties. The proper textbooks out there on the subject all leave a lot to be desired in terms of making the subject easy to understand. Atkins attempts to remedy these problems with this small book, and I think he succeeds to some extent. Without using a lot of math and graphs, Atkins introduces the four laws of classical thermodynamics, from both a "normal" (continuum?) perspective and a molecular perspective. The text is organized very logically. The examples given certainly illustrate the point, but aren't expressed in the context of everyday occurrences enough such that a non-scientific reader could easily follow along. The tone of writing is very pleasant and not at all dry, so that while not a gripping read, you certainly won't dread turning the pages.

I do think that this book lacks a well-defined audience; some points are practically spoon-fed to you, while others assume you've taken a university-level course on thermo before. Those of us that use thermodynamics (physics, engineering, chemistry, etc., and all of the sub-disciplines within) each approach the subject matter a little differently, so I appreciate that a truly general approach to thermodynamics is not a trivial undertaking. However, I think that the text would be better if more focused for either those with or those without some university experience. Regardless of the minor short-comings, I heartily recommend this book as a refresher on the laws of thermodynamics, or as a companion to a course on thermodynamics, regardless of your discipline.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four laws that drive the universe, February 18, 2008
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Hardcover)
This book is clearly written, presenting the zeroth law, first law, second law and third law of thermodynamics taking the mystery out of the usual presentations of this subject.
Professor Atkins presents the thermodynamic laws starting with comparisons with mechanical systems that most people would understand and builds upon that for an easily understood treatise on the subject matter.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great supplemental read, November 30, 2013
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Hardcover)
I don't usually like non-fiction books, but this one does a great job of breaking down the essentials of thermodynamics. It's certainly not a textbook, but it is a nice supplemental text. Thermodynamics isn't the most reader friendly topic in the world, so the fact that the author can keep it interesting is a feat.

Probably not a book I'd ever pick up just for the heck of it, but if you've got to read it, don't worry, it's not that bad.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thermodynamics finally makes sense, May 19, 2012
By 
Jordan Bell (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Hardcover)
I've had trouble before digesting the concepts and the language of thermodynamics but I feel like I finally understand things after reading this book. The book presents the four laws of thermodynamics and various concepts like adiabatic processes, Gibbs free energy, and Helmholtz free energy. It also explains clearly what negative temperature means. The book moves at a good pace, and the author doesn't overwhelm the beginning reader with more material than they can absorb.

Atkins presents the zeroth law in two ways. The first is that being in thermal equilibrium is a transitive relation, and concludes from this that thermodynamic systems have an associated value called their temperature. However I was unsatisfied with this explanation because Atkins doesn't precisely say what being in thermal equilibrium means, or what it means to say that one temperature is higher or lower than another temperature. However he then gives a very satisfying presentation of the second law through statistical mechanics, saying that "temperature is the parameter that tells us the most probable distribution of populations of molecules over the available states of a system at equilibrium." (p. 14) Atkins explains that the populations of energy states follow the Boltzmann distribution. It follows from the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution that the speed of molecules in a perfect gas is proportional to the square root of the temperature in kelvins.

To understand the first law one must understand work, which is motion in the presence of a force. We associate an internal energy to each state of a system, and the difference in internal energies of two states is the work that occurs to get from one state to the other state. The extremely important concept of heat is introduced in this chapter. Atkins could do a better job explaining why reversible changes achieve maximum work. He mentions how we can understand heat capacity through the "fluctuation-dissipation theorem".

The chapter on the second law gives the Kelvin and Clausius statements of the second law and demonstrates their equivalence. Entropy is introduced, and the second law is stated as "the entropy of the universe increases in the course of any spontaneous change" (p. 62). In this chapter Atkins also gives Boltzmann's formula for entropy in terms of the number of isoenergetic states of a system. Finally the chapter on free energy has a helpful discussion of phase transitions can be explained by Gibbs free energy.
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Four Laws That Drive the Universe
Four Laws That Drive the Universe by Peter W. Atkins (Hardcover - September 27, 2007)
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