The book provides a coherent and refreshing introduction to thermodynamics, restricting itself to simple algebra with no calculus

Introduction to molecular thermodynamics

Robert M Hanson and Susan Green 

Herndon, US: University Science Books 2008 | 296pp | ?23.99 (HB) 

ISBN 9781891389498 

Reviewed by Mark Miller 


There are several reasons why first-year science undergraduates rarely rate thermodynamics as their favourite subject. Many find the mathematics daunting, but it can also be hard to grasp concepts like entropy and free energy when presented within the traditional framework of phenomenological thermodynamics. 

Hanson and Green strive to bypass these problems first by restricting the level of mathematics to simple algebra with no calculus, and second by taking a molecular approach from the very start. Hence, explanations of thermodynamic quantities and processes are couched in terms of molecules distributed over energy levels. This explicitly chemical approach makes clear, for example, the microscopic meanings of work and heat, and provides a more accurate perception of entropy than the misleading ’measure of disorder’.

The book starts with an introduction to probability and then introduces internal energy, the First Law and thermodynamic cycles. Entropy and the Second Law enter half-way through, leading to Gibbs energy and equilibria. Two chapters at the end briefly cover phase changes and electrochemistry.

The text is written in a very informal, chatty style, making it approachable and easy to read, though it is a little verbose at times. As the authors point out, the book is based on a course in which the majority of students will not continue with chemistry. Hence, although the book conveys immense enthusiasm, it is important to realise that it does not cover the subject at a sufficient level for many first-year thermodynamics courses in UK chemistry degree programmes. Nevertheless, it provides a coherent and refreshing introduction to the subject.