BOOK REVIEW: The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Atkins

The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short IntroductionThe Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars Page

This book succeeds in systematically exploring the topic, but it fails to do so in a readable fashion for a non-expert reader who’s looking for a rudimentary grasp of the basics. It’s true that the topic is complex and challenging (as the author argues up front,) but I don’t believe the book’s daunting nature all lands on the subject matter. I’ve read up on other difficult topics using this series (VSI,) and found some books much more approachable.

The main problem was a lack of clarity (versus precision) in the language. In other words, the author didn’t want to oversimplify or use analogies, even though those are what’s needed for a neophyte reader to build an intuitively grasp a subject. For example, while the chapters are nicely organized by the laws of thermodynamic and presented in their usual order, there’s no quick and dirty definition of the respective law given at the beginning of each chapter. A simplified definition (incomplete and imperfect as it might be) would allow the reader to gain a basic intuition of the concept. Then, the reader can tweak and expand the concept as they go. But that’s not the approach taken here. Instead, several paragraphs are taken to get around to a statement of the law in question. There was also a lack of analogies and other tools to help the reader gain a foothold based upon what they know. I suspect these tools were avoided because they are all incorrect at some level of precision, and it was the scholarly fear of imprecision that resulted in their teaching effectiveness being abandoned.

This is a great guide for people who think mathematically and / or who are looking for a quick refresher of ideas they once knew. For those who don’t have a background in science and who need verbal explanations that make an effort to be comprehensible, it’s probably not the best one can do.

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Cyclone in a Cup [Free Verse]

coffee flecks swirl
in a steaming cup

cyclonic do-si-dos,
swinging and folding,
merging into clusters

between the cyclones
there are highspeed byways
cutting across the surface

a jitter of the table
seems to stop the dance,
but then it resumes

entropy falls to 
eventually follow its imperative --

entropy rising:
using order
to turn all that energy
into a lukewarm 
cup of joe

this same fluid clockwork
played out in 
primordial soup
to begin the dance of life

Heat Death [Common Meter]

A timeless time will come to be,
when all is uniform.
And nothing 's hot & nothing 's cold,
but all is just lukewarm.

So thank your lucky stars you've lived
in this age of bedlam:
when stars can shine and buildings rise
and we've cerebellums.