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Peter W Atkins

The second law

Thermodynamics is often considered to be a difficult subject. Vague talk of 'disorder' doesn't help much in describing what is going on. 'The Second Law' avoids such philosophising, instead it gives a straightforward, non-mathematical introduction to the subject, with a large number of pictures to help. The workings of steam engines and refrigerators are explained, with diagrams relating what is happening on macroscopic and microscopic scales, which is central to understanding this subject. Atkins also shows the important role of thermodynamics in chemical and biological processes. If the word 'thermodynamics' brings you out in a cold sweat then I would say that this book is for you.

However, I have serious reservations about the final chapter. I would say that this was the place to allow a bit of philosophising, telling the reader of the arguments about whether macroscopic thermodynamics really follows from microscopic behaviour - I would have liked to have seen Maxwell's demon make an appearance. Instead Atkins looks at systems such as Conway's 'Game of Life', and shows how interesting behaviour can follow from simple rules. There is one big problem though. I feel that most readers would think that these cellular automata are similar to the ones earlier in the book, where the cells contained packets of energy. However, in the final chapter the cells represent dissipative systems, which from the point of view of thermodynamics is something totally different. I think that this is highly confusing, and so I wouldn't recommend the book to someone who knows some thermodynamics and wishes to study the subject further.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 216 pages  
ISBN: 0716760061
Salesrank: 441922
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 1994 W. H. Freeman
Marketplace:New from $74.08:Used from $0.87
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 230 pages  
ISBN: 0716760061
Salesrank: 363994
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 1994 Scientific American Library
Marketplace:New from £73.33:Used from £8.39
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 216 pages  
ISBN: 0716760061
Salesrank: 2650517
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 1994 W. H. Freeman
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 135.79:Used from CDN$ 18.36
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Product Description
All natural change is subject to one law. It's the second law of thermodynamics. In this volume, the acclaimed chemist and science writer P. W. Atkins shows how this single, simple principle of energy transformation accounts for all natural change. Moving from the steam engine to the nuclear age, the narrative is full of vivid examples, ideas, and images--but virtually no mathematics.