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A classic text that shows its age
on May 17, 2012
This slim volume is based on a course of lectures given by Fermi at Columbia University, New York, in the summer of 1936. The intended audience for this book is clearly the science undergraduate, but given the age of this text, one wonders whether it is more of historical interest than a course book for the modern student.
Fermi's treatment of the fundamentals in the first four chapters - thermodynamic systems, the first law, the second law, and entropy - is attractive in its clarity. He takes his time, and is careful not to lose the reader as he elaborates the concepts. Given the timeless nature of these topics, this part of the book does not suffer on account of its age.
Regarding the subjects presented in the next three chapters - thermodynamic potentials, gaseous reactions and the thermodynamics of dilute solutions - my view is that today's student would be better advised to study a more contemporary text. Important equations, such as the Gibbs-Helmoltz equations, are not mentioned here, and some of the nomenclature and symbols are outdated, which is unlikely to help the student when cross-referencing to contemporary texts and class notes.
The final chapter is devoted to the third law and the entropy constant.
It is evident from the book that Fermi has a liking for theorems and proofs. The Clapeyron equation, for example, is proved in two different ways for no apparent reason other than to show that it can be done, and his derivation of the phase rule extends over six pages. If you're a fan of such rigor, there is much for you to enjoy here.
Overall, I would say that Fermi's book has probably passed its time as a course text for the modern student of thermodynamics, but that for the purposes of deepening understanding of the fundamental concepts addressed in the first four chapters, it still has much to recommend it.