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on February 12, 2004
These lectures by Enrico Fermi make great reading for undergraduates in chemistry or physics, particularly those undergoing the rigors of physical chemistry and chemical thermodynamics. Fermi writes with clarity, always carefully laying the appropriate groundwork for each topic.
The mathematics assumes familiarity with calculus, including partial differentiation. Fermi provides clear explanations and motivation for the mathematics and the derivations are complete and easy to follow. For example, he carefully explained the form of a perfect differential of two variables and how it can be more readily integrated. I appreciated this help.
The first four chapters will be familiar to students of physics: Thermodynamic Systems, First Law of Thermodynamics, Second Law of Thermodynamics, and Entropy. The derivation of the Clapeyron equation and the Van der Waals equation may be new to some students.
Thereafter, the text begins to look more like physical chemistry with chapters titled Thermodynamic Potentials, Gaseous Reactions, Thermodynamics of Dilute Solutions, and the Entropy Constant. I found these last chapters to be more difficult, but not overly so.
At some points Thermodynamics becomes a real page-turner, but not in the sense of a fast-paced action story. The page-turning is necessary to retrieve earlier mathematical expressions. Occasionally, you will encounter statements like "the expression for the free energy is immediately obtained from equations (111), (29), and (86)." Fermi does not allow the reader to forget earlier derivations and discussions.
If your familiarity with thermodynamics is limited (or now foggy due to the passage of years), I suggest first reading Understanding Thermodynamics by H. C. Van Ness. This 100-page book, a series of lectures, is an excellent introduction to thermodynamics from an engineering and physics perspective. It corresponds to the first four chapters of Fermi's text.
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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.
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on January 28, 2003
fermi presents thermodynamics with beutiful economy. many other authors obfuscate the subject with extraneous detail, often missing the most important points. fermi misses absolutely nothing of importance, but does not weigh down his explanations with ramblings or tangents either. he presents the bare core of thermodynamics.
though the following analogy is somewhat cheesy, i find it appropriate: most authors who have written on thermo are like beginning kung fu students who do all sorts of fancy moves, backflips, and sommersaults but who ultimately land on their behinds. fermi is like the grand master who uses a stunning sparsity of moves, but each one is necessary and each one is enough. in the end, his competition doesn't stand a chance. he's just that good.
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on October 13, 2010
Last week I was having dinner with friends in a restaurant in northern New Mexico. All physicists, slightly drunk, we were debating as different topics as "why did Hannibal not march on Rome after annihilating its legions at the battle of Canne?", or "how could those 19th century guys figure out a concept as like entropy BEFORE knowing statistical mechanics", when many lamented how unnatural thermodynamics felt as undergraduates, and how all textbooks were perhaps not incomplete but incapable of convey the physics. And then I said "well, there is Fermi's Thermodynamics..." end soon everybody agreed. My freshman course in thermodynamics, in Italy, was based on this book: although it is short and concise, no other text has its compelling clarity in explaining the basic laws. And it has that distinctive Fermi style: cutting the crap, straight to the physical point. Undergraduates learning the subject on any other book are really missing out.
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on July 18, 1997
Would you be interested in an introductory piano "how to" written by Mozart? How about a Driver's Education couse taught by Al Unser?
No student of physics or chemistry should be without this clear, cogent examination of thermodynamics. As one of the top scientists of this century, one can consider Fermi's thermo text as science that's "straight from the horse's mouth."
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on March 7, 2009
Fermi presents Thermodynamics in a clear, precise and almost irrefutable way that gives your all the results within only a few pages. Quite often, after he arrives at a well known result effortlessly, I find myself going back a few pages to make sure I understand how he got there, because it just seemed too easy and so different from the arduous arguments for the same outcome I learned from a different source. After this book, you will say, of course, this has to be. Truly a masterful work.
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on November 30, 2000
Profound. This book is a beautiful work on the subject of thermodynamics. I consider this a classic treatise. All that one requires is a knowledge of basic calculus.
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on October 16, 2008
In order to get a quick review of the first semester of physical chemistry, you get a perfect edition. Everything is proved, there are several examples of classical experiments and later you can skip the text and just read the formulas for even better repitition.
One thing I'm missing is the complete behavior of real gasses, here you just find the Van-der-Waals equation and not the Virial-equation, fugacity or Thompson-effect and so on, but I think this was not the intention of the book.
I read it because I wanted, as a german, to get into english thermodynamical terms and I read it as an introduction to statistical thermodynamics, where I now go thru the text of Schrödinger.
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on November 10, 2009
First published in 1937, this book is a masterful treatment by a master physicist. Weighing in at just over 150 pages, it manages to cover all the really essential topics in this subject. Furthermore there are a few excellent examples that nicely illustrate the power of thermodynamic methods. The treatment and use of free energy are notable high points in this work.

Sadly, this book is probably still not appropriate for readers who have no knowledge of thermodynamics or the physics of heat more generally, but it would make an ideal second book on the subject. However, The Feynman Lectures are enough to make this book accessible.

The chapter titles give a good idea of the contents:

1) Thermodynamic Systems
2) The First Law of Thermodynamics
3) The Second Law of Thermodynamics
4) The Entropy
5) Thermodynamic Potentials
6) Gaseous Reactions
7) Thermodynamics of Dilute Solutions
8) The Entropy Constant
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on July 18, 1998
This is Fermi at his best. A charming booklet which presents thermodynamics using the elegant Carnot cycle method. It stands out from the competitors by showing many enlightening applications with physics always having the limelight. The study of the adiabatic atmosphere, with the derivation of the dependence of temperature on height,is particularly delightful.
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