Imperial College Press
2013 | 443pp | £78
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.