I had the temerity to write about the Laws of Thermodynamics in one of the chapters of my book On the Moor: science, history and nature on a country walk. The Second Law of Thermodynamics gets my vote for the most awesome law in science. I find it perversely comforting: it explains how you can’t get something for nothing, how things wear out, and how, in the long-run, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Peter Atkins’s introduction to the Laws of Thermodynamics might well be short, but it covers the subject far better than I could in my single, inexpert chapter. He breaks the cardinal rule of popular science writing by including a number of formulae in the text, but he doesn’t expect you to understand them; he simply wants you to get a feel for the factors that need to be taken into account when considering the secrets of the universe.
I would have liked to have seen a few more examples of how the Laws of Thermodynamics apply to the everyday world, beyond the functioning of engines. But Atkins’s prose is pretty accessible for such a difficult subject. So much so that I finally began to understand the subtle distinctions between temperature, heat, and work.
An excellent introduction to an awesome subject.
“…wonderfully droll, witty and entertaining… At their best Carter’s moorland walks and his meandering intellectual talk are part of a single, deeply coherent enterprise: a restless inquiry into the meaning of place and the nature of self.”
—Mark Cocker, author and naturalist
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