Four Laws That Drive the Universe

by P. W. Atkins

Hardcover, 2007




Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2007.


From the sudden expansion of a cloud of gas or the cooling of a hot metal, to the unfolding of a thought in our minds and even the course of life itself, everything is governed by the four Laws of Thermodynamics. These laws specify the nature of 'energy' and 'temperature', and are soonrevealed to reach out and define the arrow of time itself: why things change and why death must come.In this Very Short Introduction Peter Atkins explains the basis and deeper implications of each law, highlighting their relevance in everyday examples. Using the minimum of mathematics, he introduces concepts such as entropy, free energy, and to the brink and beyond of the absolute zero temperature.These are not merely abstract ideas: they govern our lives.In this concise and compelling introduction Atkins paints a lucid picture of the four elegant laws that, between them, drive the Universe.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member NielsenGW
Peter Atkins’s Four Laws That Drive the Universe is a exploration of the fundamental concepts that make up the current laws of thermodynamics. There are four laws, and their purpose is to define the nature of heat, energy, and entropy in the universe as follows:

• Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics: If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, then they are in equilibrium with each other. This defines the concept of temperature and allows for empirical measurements of systems.
• First Law of Thermodynamics: The increase in internal energy of a body is equal to the heat supplied to the body minus work done by the body. This allows for the principle that there must be a conservation of heat and energy in the universe as well as defines both the performance of work and heat as a form of energy transfer
• Second Law of Thermodynamics: Isolated systems not in a state thermal equilibrium will spontaneously evolve towards such a state. This eliminates the possibility of perpetual motion machines and infinite energy creation.
• Third Law of Thermodynamics: The entropy of a system approaches a constant value as the temperature approaches zero. This eliminates the possibility of ever reaching absolute zero (on the Kelvin scale) and places in every system some residual entropy that can never be removed.

These four laws govern all heat and energy transfers in the universe and Atkins details the fundamental forces and molecular concepts behind each one, progressing from simple examples to more complex analogies. His goal is to educate the reader, and that being done, go no further. It’s a slim book, but Atkins’s tone is dry and perfunctory. He spends no extra time on frivolous examples, and does only a middling well job of explaining the highly technical subject of thermodynamics. In an effort not to confuse words or ideas, he is constantly parsing concepts into its exact language, some of which can be above the layman’s head. To be truthful, I had a bit of a time keeping up. That being said, if you’re already familiar with basic physics, then this would be a decent guide to the field of thermodynamics. A short but technical volume.
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LibraryThing member rcorfield
I wish I'd read more books like this when I was doing my Physics degree. Atkins clearly explains the fundamental ideas in an engaging way. With a deeper background understanding of the thermodynamic concepts in this book I think that I would have been better able to tackle the heavy stuff.
LibraryThing member hcubic
This little book is a gem. I have to admit that most of the students who have completed my first physical chemistry semester, which is all about thermodynamics, would benefit from reading this wonderful explanation of the central place that these topics play in every aspect of life. In courses, we all tend to teach our students what is necessary to solve problems and to survive the partial derivatives. In Four Laws, Peter Atkins beautifully and clearly describes the larger tableau. He even begins with the afterthought - the Zeroth Law - and spends a chapter each on the other three, with an additional one on Free Energy. While he did not have the courage to put the dreaded T word in the title (for which he apologizes in the first paragraph of the Preface), he has kept the volume so small and light that it might entice the unwary to actually pick it up. It would be a good idea to read it before or during a thermodynamics course. This is a small cousin to another of Atkins' books that is a favorite of mine, The Second Law, which one can still find in the used book market or in libraries.… (more)
LibraryThing member 100ideas
The author meets his challenge of revealing some of the profound concepts of thermodynamics in a qualitative way with an informal, first person style.



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