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Vol. 30 No. 5
September-October 2008

Bookworm | Books and publications hot off the press.
See also www.iupac.org/publications

Four Laws That Drive the Universe

Peter Atkins
Oxford University Press, New York, 2007
ISBN 978-0199232369

reviewed by Laurence Lavelle

Four Laws That Drive the Universe is a delight to read. It is so well written that its 124 small and eloquent pages can be read in a day and its contents enjoyed for a lifetime.

The five chapters (describing the zeroth-, first-, second- and third- laws of thermodynamics and free energy) do far more than cover introductory thermodynamics. They convert what is an often abstract topic of mathematical equations into prose that is logical and easy to read. Atkins explains the concepts behind the equations and develops the equations.

Four Laws That Drive the Universe shows that it is possible to construct sentences that are excellent replacements for equations. This aspect of the book alone will be a great asset to anyone—and in particular any student—who finds it difficult to read equations and comprehend thermodynamics. In addition to making thermodynamics comprehensible to beginners, for specialists, it sets the standard for converting mathematically dense scientific topics into logical text with little lost in translation.

This gem of a book will be helpful to any student hearing about thermodynamics for the first time. Graduate students, who may have already made several attempts at understanding the fundamentals of thermodynamics, will also find this book helpful. Those who teach thermodynamics will find it a useful resource in assisting students understand thermodynamics. This book rewards at many levels, making it an excellent read for beginning students through to specialists in thermodynamics.

Laurence Lavelle <lavelle@chem.ucla.edu> is a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California–Los Angeles.


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