Patrick Jacobs
Imperial College Press
2013 | 443pp | £78
ISBN 9781848169708
Reviewed by Peter Atkins
Thermodynamics is so long in the tooth, moves forward at a rate some would consider stationary, and has been presented in so many texts already that for a new text to be necessary and to make an impact it needs to be very special indeed. That, coupled with the pragmatic view that few undergraduates will consider adding to their library of possibly three books at most, renders the prospect for any new book gloomy.
Patrick Jacobs has set out to write a survey of the subject suitable for undergraduates in the US (he teaches in Canada) and the first three years of a chemistry course in the UK. I think he greatly overestimates the appetite for mathematics in the latter category, for the presentation will do little to dispel a student’s view that thermodynamics is an infestation of equations. The text is reasonably reliable but will do little to add to a reader’s insight for there is very little interpretation. 
The author claims novelty in the presentation, specifically introducing the thermodynamic temperature scale in a way based on a single fixed point. I am left wondering how it is possible to do otherwise. It is claimed that this approach enables the laws of thermodynamics to be introduced more quickly, but I saw little evidence of that.
The typography doesn’t help the reader’s digestion, for although there are many worked examples and exercises, they are jumbled into the running text and for a lot of the time it is very hard to distinguish instruction from encouragement. Perhaps that was the pedagogical intention, but it comes out as a muddle. 
A novel aspect of the text is a light introduction to nonequilibrium processes, but I suspect that few undergraduate courses would bother with what is little more than a sophisticated treatment of transport numbers.
In short, although instructors might find some points of interest, I doubt whether any undergraduate would find the text stimulating or illuminating enough to add it to their other three.
Purchase Thermodynamics from

Related Content

Chemistry World podcast - September 2013

2 September 2013 Podcast | Monthly

news image

Emma Smith surveys the prospects for chemistry graduates and Polly Arnold looks at plugging the leaky pipeline of women in ch...

Pipeline of US female chemists in doubt

18 March 2016 News and Analysis

news image

New figures raise concerns about the representation of women in US chemistry departments

Most Commented

New antibiotic picked from nose bacteria

27 July 2016 Research

news image

Discovery suggests human microbiome may be an untapped source of antimicrobial compounds

Perovskite boosts silicon solar cell efficiency

25 November 2015 News and Analysis

news image

Silicon industry will be ‘beating a path to the door’ of inventors, says scientist