Warmth Disperses and Time Passes
deals with, among other things, "Maxwell's Demon," a metaphorical device invented by James Clerk Maxwell a century and a half ago in an attempt to expose flaws in the second law of thermodynamics. This imaginary demon would sit between two flasks of air and allow only warm air molecules to enter the warmer flask. This would cause heat to flow uphill--a death knell for the second law if it were possible. Only it wasn't; it was the death knell for the demon instead. Successive "improved" demons were invented by later physicists, but all have subsequently been killed. The realization that a live demon is impossible has served to further strengthen the second law.
Hans von Baeyer is almost as much historian as scientist. As he walks us through the evolution of scientific understanding of thermodynamics, he stops to dwell on the intellectual and societal framework that allowed the physicists of the time to make their respective scientific leaps. This blend of science and history, combined with von Baeyer's journalistic approach, creates a book that is both exceedingly accessible and surprisingly illuminating. --Eric Warner
"Hans von Baeyer's writing style is so compelling that it would induce even the most scientifically naïve reader to care about the laws of thermodynamics."--Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Professor von Baeyer is a prime candidate for best wordsmith among popularizers of physics, composing prose that is elegant, economical and, above all, civilized."--Physics Today
"Hans von Baeyer uses common sense and familiar observations as a tool for exploring deep scientific principles."--Library Journal, Best Sci-Tech Books of 1998
"Hans Christian von Baeyer has published a highly readable, highly humanized account of the second law of thermodynamics. He gives what could be an abstract and difficult discussion a profoundly human tone."--The Boston Globe