Top critical review
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Great up to page 35
on 4 November 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.