The Refrigerator and the Universe: Understanding the Laws of Energy

The Refrigerator and the Universe: Understanding the Laws of Energy
by Martin Goldstein and Inge F. Goldstein

Harvard University Press
Glossary; Index
C, T, GA **


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In this text, the authors successfully explain the difficult concepts of energy conservation and entropy by carefully developing each idea from basic principles and illustrating the ideas with familiar examples. They begin the discussion of entropy at the molecular level with an introduction to probability calculations, illustrated with dice tosses and coin throws. The book traces the historical development of thermodynamics, discussing the individuals, as well as their contributions, and showing the evolution of scientific ideas about heat. Consequences of the first and second laws of thermodynamics are explored through a variety of examples: the heat death of the universe, the impossibility of perpetual motion machines, and even a discussion of gases dissolved in fluids titled "Thermodynamic Analysis of Soda Pop." Readers at all levels, from high school to professional scientists, will find something intriguing in this book, and the reference list for each chapter directs the reader to further information. However, the book is not error free. For example, after describing the fission of uranium 235, it says, "This is how the first man-made nuclear explosion was powered," when, in fact, the Trinity test involved an explosion of plutonium. Physicists, accustomed to precise definitions, will be uncomfortable with statements such as "the driving force for the motion is just the small upward displacement;" displacements are not forces. It is also difficult to understand why the authors define energy as "the capacity to do work" when they correctly observe that the first law requires that the energy of a closed system remain constant, while the second law requires that extractable work decreases with time. Nonetheless, this book provides a very readable and informative account of a difficult topic.

--Reviewed by George J. Flynn in Science Books and Films, 30/3 (April 1994), p. 71.