536: Four Laws That Drive the Universe by Peter Atkins

by Gerard


536.71: Atkins, Peter. Four Laws That Drive the Universe. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007. 124 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-923236-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 530: Physics
  • 536: Heat
  • 536.7: Thermodynamics
  • 536.71: Theories

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.