A short and entertaining introduction to thermodynamics that uses real-world examples to explain accessibly an important but subtle scientific theory
A romantic description of the second law of thermodynamics is that the universe becomes increasingly disordered. But what does that actually mean? Starting with an overview of the three laws of thermodynamics, MacArthur “genius grant" winner R. Stephen Berry explains in this short book the fundamentals of a fundamental science. Readers learn both the history of thermodynamics, which began with attempts to solve everyday engineering problems, and ongoing controversy and unsolved puzzles. The exposition, suitable for both students and armchair physicists, requires no previous knowledge of the subject and only the simplest mathematics, taught as needed.
With this better understanding of one science, readers also gain an appreciation of the role of research in science, the provisional nature of scientific theory, and the ways scientific exploration can uncover fundamental truths. Thus, from a science of everyday experience, we learn about the nature of the universe.
This book has a very specific purpose: to use the science of
thermodynamics as a paradigm to show what science is, what
science does and how we use it, how science comes to exist,
and how science can evolve as we try to reach and address
more and more challenging questions about the natural world.
It is intended primarily for people with little or no background
in science, apart, perhaps, from some exposure in school or
college to “science for everyone” courses.
The approach, quite frankly, came from three stimuli. One
was a course I gave for non-scientist undergraduates at the
University of Chicago that evolved over years. The second was
an adult education course that grew out of that undergraduate
course—but was at a somewhat lower level, primarily in terms
of the mathematics. The third, first in time, which had a very
crucial influence on that evolution, was a pair of essays
published in 1959 by the British scientist and novelist C. P.
Snow, titled “The Two Cultures,” based on lectures he had
given at Cambridge University. Snow said, in essence, that those
who belong to the culture of scientists know vastly more about
the culture of humanities than the reverse, and that this is a
serious problem for our society. He argued, metaphorically, that
if we were to achieve a proper balance, the non-scientists
would know as much about the second law of thermodynamics
as the scientists know about Shakespeare. In a later essay,
actually published in 1964 with the first two, he retreated and
replaced the second law of thermodynamics with contemporary