Home Authors Books Subjects Events Software Features Links Newsletter Gifts Blog Write Review What's New

Review - Four Laws (that drive the Universe) - Peter Atkins



Visit bookshop

 

There's something rather Victorian feeling about the concept of universal laws - and Peter Atkins rightly recognizes in his introduction that thermodynamics - the subject of this slim volume - is a word that tends to conjure up Victorian images like steam engines and pistons, but there is much more to the four laws of thermodynamics (confusingly starting with the zeroth law) than the answers to all the questions a Victorian engineer might ask. In fact, as Atkins suggests, these laws are an absolute fundamental when it comes to understanding how the universe works, and everyone ought to have a rough idea of what they are about. Apparently C. P. Snow once said "not knowing the second law of thermodynamics is like never having read a work by Shakespeare." Now, leaving aside the fact that reading much Shakespeare is rather dull (at least compared with watching a Shakespeare play, put on by a decent cast), which I don't think is what Snow meant, there's an element of truth here.

So a slim book, painlessly introducing the big four to the innocent reader, more familiar with Shakespeare than physics, would be a great thing indeed. Unfortunately that's not quite what this book is. Even most popular science fans will find it both over-complex and rather hard work. That's not to say this isn't a good book for a certain audience. It would be excellent to help first year physics undergraduates get to grips with the ideas behind thermodynamics before they have to plunge into doing all the calculations that go with it - and I would highly recommend it for that audience - but for the general reader, neither the style nor the content cuts in, in terms of getting across thermodynamics as accessibly as other books have managed to explain (say) relativity or quantum theory for the general reader. What a shame.

Only in hardback

Reviewed by Brian Clegg

DISCLAIMERS

This site has no connection with Popular Science magazine or other sites and publications with a similar name.

Much of the content of this site is written by popular science writers or friends of popular science writers. Inevitably many of the reviews in such a small community are written by or about someone we know. We always aim to be impartial in our reviews, but there is a connection which we need make clear, as there is no intention to deceive. The content of any review or article is solely the opinion of the author and should not be read or understood on any other basis. The site exists to promote popular science writing and popular science authors and for this reason should be considered promotional material, just as the editorial reviews in an online bookshop or the blurb on the back of a book should be considered promotional.

The website should not be eaten or used where it can come into contact with water.

Disagree with our review? Want to comment on a feature? Contact us at info@ popularscience.co.uk - have your say!

Part of the Popular Science  site

Copyright Creativity Unleashed Limited 2005
Last update 05 June 2007