REVIEW | Four Laws that Drive the Universe by Peter Atkins

As a reader interested in general knowledge, but more specialized in the social sciences, I came to Four Laws That Drive the Universe wanting to get the sharpest understanding I could of the laws of thermodynamics without specialized training in the subject. I think the book fills this niche fairly well, but I did notice some unevenness in difficulty level.

I enjoyed how the modern formulations of the concepts were introduced through the historical context of their development, moving from physical observations of steam engines toward more refined molecular explanations, and touching on the major historical figures who developed key concepts at different stages.

I had mixed feelings about this book, though they were predominantly positive. I think that most of the time, the concepts are explained in such a way that the general reader can happily follow along, but there are a few sections that will probably approach or slightly exceed the abilities of the general reader to come fully along for the ride.

Overall, I think this is probably the best available short treatment at this level. It raises the specificity and precision of concepts that are sometimes trotted out in general discussions without being understood well enough. Not a bad investment for a few hours of concentration!