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Three Laws of Nature: A Little Book on Thermodynamics

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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 biology.
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