Peter Atkins’ Four laws that drive the universe

I finished reading Peter Atkins’ Four laws; I enjoyed it a lot, and I have no hesitations in recommending it. I hope OUP publishes a low priced, paperback edition so that many more students will have access to this wonderful book.

Be it the very first sentence in the book

The zeroth law is an afterthought

which reminded me of some good openings of certain mystery novels, or the interesting pieces of information (as, for example, that in the original Celsius scale, water froze at 100 and bolied at 0 degrees Celcius), or the deep concepts explained in a rather lucid fashion (like the section on Fluctuation-Dissipation theorem on page. 42), or the new aspects of looking at thermodynamics that the book introduces (for example, as to why Boltzmann constant is not to be considered a fundamental constant but a conversion factor), I never found the book dull (though, at times, I did find it to be very engrossing and a bit time-consuming to go through the arguments).

Overall, I also think that the approach used by Atkins, namely

… we consider first the observational aspects of each law, then dive below thhe surface of bulk matter and discover the illumination that comes from the interpretation of the laws in terms of concepts that inhabit the underworld of atoms[.]

is very natural and effective; concepts like energy, entropy, temperature, enthalpy, and Helmholtz and Gibbs free energies are explained by Atkins using this approach; and, by far, these are some of the best explanations that I have seen.

Let me end this post by quoting Paul Davies from the blurb of the book,

Arkins is a master expositor, who combines penetrating insight with simplicity of style and a gentle elegance.

Hunt for the book in your library; or, better still, buy yourself a copy and have fun!

PS: By the way, here is an YouTube video wherein Atkins introduces the book.

Note to self: At least a couple of books from Atkins’ Further Reading list sound interesting: G N Lewis and M Randall, Thermodynamics and B Widom, Statistical Mechanics: a concise introduction for chemists.

PS 2: Thanks to my colleague Rajesh for introducing the book to me, and agreeing to part it for the last one month. I hope to get a personal copy for myself soon.

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