Four Laws That Drive the Universe, Hardback

Four Laws That Drive the Universe Hardback

Part of the Very Short Introductions series

3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


The laws of thermodynamics drive everything that happens in the universe.

From the sudden expansion of a cloud of gas to the cooling of hot metal, and from the unfurling of a leaf to the course of life itself - everything is directed and constrained by four simple laws.

They establish fundamental concepts such as temperature and heat, and reveal the arrow of time and even the nature of energy itself.

Peter Atkins' powerful and compelling introduction explains what the laws are and how they work, using accessible language and virtually no mathematics.

Guiding the reader from the Zeroth Law to the Third Law, he introduces the fascinating concept of entropy, and how it not only explains why your desk tends to get messier, but also how its unstoppable rise constitutes the engine of the universe.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 144 pages, 8 line drawings
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Popular science
  • ISBN: 9780199232369



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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

I wish I'd read more books like this when I was doing my Physics degree. Atkins clearly explains the fundamental ideas in an engaging way. With a deeper background understanding of the thermodynamic concepts in this book I think that I would have been better able to tackle the heavy stuff.

Review by

Peter Atkins’s Four Laws That Drive the Universe is a exploration of the fundamental concepts that make up the current laws of thermodynamics. There are four laws, and their purpose is to define the nature of heat, energy, and entropy in the universe as follows:•Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics: If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, then they are in equilibrium with each other. This defines the concept of temperature and allows for empirical measurements of systems.•First Law of Thermodynamics: The increase in internal energy of a body is equal to the heat supplied to the body minus work done by the body. This allows for the principle that there must be a conservation of heat and energy in the universe as well as defines both the performance of work and heat as a form of energy transfer•Second Law of Thermodynamics: Isolated systems not in a state thermal equilibrium will spontaneously evolve towards such a state. This eliminates the possibility of perpetual motion machines and infinite energy creation.•Third Law of Thermodynamics: The entropy of a system approaches a constant value as the temperature approaches zero. This eliminates the possibility of ever reaching absolute zero (on the Kelvin scale) and places in every system some residual entropy that can never be removed.These four laws govern all heat and energy transfers in the universe and Atkins details the fundamental forces and molecular concepts behind each one, progressing from simple examples to more complex analogies. His goal is to educate the reader, and that being done, go no further. It’s a slim book, but Atkins’s tone is dry and perfunctory. He spends no extra time on frivolous examples, and does only a middling well job of explaining the highly technical subject of thermodynamics. In an effort not to confuse words or ideas, he is constantly parsing concepts into its exact language, some of which can be above the layman’s head. To be truthful, I had a bit of a time keeping up. That being said, if you’re already familiar with basic physics, then this would be a decent guide to the field of thermodynamics. A short but technical volume.

Review by

This little book is a gem. I have to admit that most of the students who have completed my first physical chemistry semester, which is all about thermodynamics, would benefit from reading this wonderful explanation of the central place that these topics play in every aspect of life. In courses, we all tend to teach our students what is necessary to solve problems and to survive the partial derivatives. In Four Laws, Peter Atkins beautifully and clearly describes the larger tableau. He even begins with the afterthought - the Zeroth Law - and spends a chapter each on the other three, with an additional one on Free Energy. While he did not have the courage to put the dreaded T word in the title (for which he apologizes in the first paragraph of the Preface), he has kept the volume so small and light that it might entice the unwary to actually pick it up. It would be a good idea to read it before or during a thermodynamics course. This is a small cousin to another of Atkins' books that is a favorite of mine, The Second Law, which one can still find in the used book market or in libraries.