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Four Laws That Drive the Universe [Hardcover]

Peter Atkins
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Sep 2007
The laws of thermodynamics drive everything that happens in the universe. From the sudden expansion of a cloud of gas to the cooling of hot metal, and from the unfurling of a leaf to the course of life itself - everything is directed and constrained by four simple laws. They establish fundamental concepts such as temperature and heat, and reveal the arrow of time and even the nature of energy itself.

Peter Atkins' powerful and compelling introduction explains what the laws are and how they work, using accessible language and virtually no mathematics. Guiding the reader from the Zeroth Law to the Third Law, he introduces the fascinating concept of entropy, and how it not only explains why your desk tends to get messier, but also how its unstoppable rise constitutes the engine of the universe.

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Four Laws That Drive the Universe + The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (6 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199232369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199232369
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 14.7 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 131,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


His engaging account...the lucid figures offer readers a firm understanding of energy and entropy. (Science)

Concise, well-written, engaging and carefully structured... an enjoyable and informative read. (Chemistry World)

Peter Atkins's account of the core concepts of thermodynamics is beautifully crafted. (Simon Mitton, THES)

A brief and invigoratingly limpid guide to the laws of thermodynamics. (Saturday Guardian)

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)

[Atkins'] ultra-compact guide to thermodynamics [is] a wonderful book that I wish I had read at university. (New Scientist)

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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost perfect lecture notes 2 Nov 2008
This slim volume offers an introduction into the laws of thermodynamics. No funny stuff, just plain and basic explaining. If you simply want to know the principles of this branch of physics, this book will lift your grasp of the matter from highschool to college level in an admirable way.

Only when at the end of the book, in the process of explaining the third law, he introduces the spin of an electron, does Peter Atkins stray away from the until then crystal clear reasoning. Cleaning up the non-intuitive steps in this chapter would have made the book truly perfect.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars clarity depth and economy 28 Feb 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase

This remarkably slim volume primer for basic principles of `Thermodynamics' shows great clarity and economy in its descriptions. If you saw this on a shelf you might consider its of a low academic quality, but i.m.h.o this is a mistake. However please note, this does not contain explicit mathematical descriptions, such as Partial derivatives equations using Vector Calculus e.g. DIV, GRAD, Curl or anything approaching this, so please bear this in mind.

What does it cover?

The Prof. begins by defining energy principles that allow for the quickest, clearest comprehension. The mathematical supporting these statements is largely removed to give an orientating guide to understanding of the reader in the main features of this topic. Topics described with superb clarity are the 'Zeroth Law', and the concept of temperature and work, the conservation of energy, descriptive features about the second law with regard to entropy and work in `Carnot heat engines', and finishing with the unattainably nature of zero k and how this follows into basic quantum theory.


For what's its worth I have seen a Dr. Engineering (I will not name) use this book as the basis for his lectures. He regarded this volume possessing "deep understanding for a new students perspective" and "is the model of clarity often used by senior tutors to compare their own teaching styles".
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great up to page 35 4 Nov 2009
This book was great up to page 35: a very clear and lucid account of heat and energy. Then it suddenly became very difficult and dropped into a heavy and turgid morass.

I was a complete beginner at this, and although the book has no maths in it, it is not at all easy to understand if you don't have a secondary school education in the basic physics. I suspect, from what other reviewers have said, that it contains many profound insights for people who were taught the equations, but were never taught why they should be using them. It isn't really suitable for general readers, or at least not this general reader, looking for an introduction to the laws of thermodynamics and concepts like enthalpy, entropy and Gibbs energy, and an explanation as to why physical and chemical reactions occur.

Atkins doesn't put any mathematical equations into the book. Normally, this what you do if you are writing for general readers. However, I found Atkins impenetrable, and had to turn to the mathematical descriptions (like van Ness) before I understood what he was trying to say. I feel bad saying such a negative thing about a book that was clearly an intense effort to write, and it is just a shame that he couldn't maintain the lucidity of the first 35 pages for the remaining 100-odd.

In all, I was a bit disappointed, but if you are approaching the book from the right background, it might well be very worthwhile.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Can't praise this enough 16 Feb 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Can't praise this enough. Peter Atkins is a great writer and easy to read. So you should read this, and re-read it t get a good feel for the significance of the four laws (of thermodynamics) and their place in understanding this universe. Get this and his Galileo's Finger.

And if you watch him on youtube he's pretty direct and doesn't take any nonsense. His chemistry books are good too.
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