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The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

47 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199572199
ISBN-10: 0199572194
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Editorial Reviews


Review from previous edition: "It takes not only a great writer but a great scientist with a lifetime's experience to explains such a notoriously tricky area with absolute economy and precision, not to mention humour." --Books of the Year, Observer. 30.11.08

"His engaging account...the lucid figures offer readers a firm understanding of energy and entropy." --Science 4/04/08

"Concise, well-written, engaging and carefully structured... an enjoyable and informative read." --Chemistry World 01/12/2007

"Peter Atkins's account of the core concepts of thermodynamics is beautifully crafted." --Simon Mitton, THES 16/11/2007

"A brief and invigoratingly limpid guide to the laws of thermodynamics." --Saturday Guardian 15/09/2007

"Atkins's systematic foundations should go a long way towards easing confusion about the engaging book, just the right length (and depth) for an absorbing, informative read." --Mark Haw, Nature 20/09/2007

"[Atkins'] ultra-compact guide to thermodynamics [is] a wonderful book that I wish I had read at university." --New Scientist 20/10/2007

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).


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199572194
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199572199
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.7 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Metallurgist TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a terrific book, one that I would recommend to someone without a scientific background who just want to know a bit about thermodynamics, to a student (including high school students) just starting to learn about this subject, to graduate students who know quite a lot about it and even to teachers of the subject. I say this as one who has experienced the subject from all of these vantage points. I am a retired scientist (materials), but I still retain an interest in many scientific subjects, but now from a more general viewpoint. I have studied thermodynamics both as an undergraduate and graduate student, I have used it professionally, and even used it in a graduate course that I taught. I therefore think that I can make this wholehearted recommendation from a reasonable vantage point, or more accurately vantage points.

Professor Atkins begins with the zeroth law (and why this is not the first law) and a discussion of temperature. Then it is on to the first law and the concept of energy, the second law and the concept of entropy, the concept of free energy, and finally the third law and attaining absolute zero. All this material is treated in a clear manner, without the differential equations and derivations of equations that can make thermodynamics a complex subject. Instead, the reader is treated to an excellent discussion of what the laws mean and why they are so important. Even though I felt well versed in the subject I learned a lot and found a lot to think about. For instance, Professor Atkins provides the best explanation of enthalpy that I have ever come across. Most books just introduce it without going into why it was developed and where it fits into the general scheme of things, but Professor Atkins rectifies this.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on April 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The field of thermodynamics sprung up in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, as the industrial revolution heated up and there was an increasing need to understand the steam engine as the driving force behind almost all of the technological development of that era. Throughout the nineteenth century most of the field was refined and set up on the intellectual foundations that we would be familiar with even today, and this very short introduction sums up the most important aspects of thermodynamics. This book is intended for the general audience as an accessible and minimally technical introduction to the laws of thermodynamics, as presently understood. The understanding of these laws has evolved over time, and especially with the advent of statistical physics they had been put on a wholly different foundation. However, this book does not delve at all into the statistical mechanics and introduces the laws of thermodynamics in their own right as a self-contained intellectual structure. It is actually quite remarkable that these laws have survived more or less intact all the incredible advances that have shaken the twentieth century physics - relativity, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, etc. It is therefore very likely that whatever the final theory of the laws of nature ends up looking like, the laws of thermodynamics will still have its place in the intellectual underpinnings of science. As such, these laws could be rightfully considered an indispensible part of every modern education, and every person who aims to be considered scientifically literate would be wise to acquaint him/herself with the basic understanding of them. In that regard this short book is an excellent source of information. The only shortcoming that I could think of is the very cursory coverage of some more modern applications, like those that pertain to biology. Even so, it is a good introduction for people who just need a meat-and-potatoes understanding of thermodynamics.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By M. Henri De Feraudy on November 14, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've ordered many books in thermodynamics to see how the subject is taught and to get a deep understanding.
This book is one of the best introductory science books I have ever held in my hands. Peter Atkins is a master at finding
lucid analogies (this shows up when he describes enthalpy and free energy).
I do not agree with the reviewer who criticises the book for not discussing some advanced applications like biology. This is a very short introduction for goodness sake!
However the reviewer who complained thathe didnt always understand the English does get my sympathy. The style is pithy, and it is perhaps because I have already read quite a few other books that I havent been put off by this.

I also recommend his books on chemistry which are also very well written. For example
If you feel you never quite understood some of the abstract concepts of thermodynamics, then this one is for you (if you like a terse book), or you could get the more leisurely introduction by John Fenn Engines, Energy, And Entropy: A Thermodynamics Primer. The latter is more geared to the discussion of engines.

Do not think you will be ready to sit exams on thermodynamics by just reading this book though, it's just meant to get you over some conceptual hurdles or to complement your other readings.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Peter Reeve on October 21, 2010
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Peter Atkins promises at the outset that this will not be a light read, and it isn't, at least not if you want to really take it all in and much of it is new to you. Gibbs energy and Helmholtz energy are discussed, as are negative (below absolute zero) temperatures. For a very short introduction to the subject, it goes into considerable depth.

You would need no more than an average grasp of High School math and science to follow the arguments completely, and not even that if you are just seeking a flavor of what the subject is about and are willing to settle for less than a thorough understanding.

Atkins writes very well, with clarity, elegance and an infectious enthusiasm. There is certainly no lack of the latter - he describes these laws as 'a mighty handful' that drives the Universe, and claims that 'no other scientific law has contributed more to the liberation of the human spirit than the second law of Thermodynamics'. I'm not sure about that, but I do now appreciate the fundamental importance of these laws and how they are crucial to understanding how Nature works.
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