Book review: ‘The Laws of Thermodynamics’ by Peter Atkins

A very short introduction.

The Laws of Thermodynamics

I had the temerity to write about the Laws of Thermodynamics in one of the chapters of my book On the Moor: science, history and nature on a country walk. The Second Law of Thermodynamics gets my vote for the most awesome law in science. I find it perversely comforting: it explains how you can’t get something for nothing, how things wear out, and how, in the long-run, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Peter Atkins’s introduction to the Laws of Thermodynamics might well be short, but it covers the subject far better than I could in my single, inexpert chapter. He breaks the cardinal rule of popular science writing by including a number of formulae in the text, but he doesn’t expect you to understand them; he simply wants you to get a feel for the factors that need to be taken into account when considering the secrets of the universe.

I would have liked to have seen a few more examples of how the Laws of Thermodynamics apply to the everyday world, beyond the functioning of engines. But Atkins’s prose is pretty accessible for such a difficult subject. So much so that I finally began to understand the subtle distinctions between temperature, heat, and work.

An excellent introduction to an awesome subject.


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