Four laws that drive the universe

Four laws that drive the universe 

Peter Atkins 

Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2007 | 128pp | ?9.99 (HB) ISBN 9780199232369 

Reviewed by David Parker

Have you ever wondered why your desk tends to get messier, why a cup of coffee goes cold or what temperature actually is? Many of the fundamental concepts of the universe are ultimately underpinned by thermodynamics - the governing laws of which this book aims to explain in an accessible and informative way. 

The author, well known to undergraduates for his physical and inorganic chemistry books, intends to provide a text with enough detail to satisfy the enquiring student or academic, but in a language and style that will also appeal to the wider general audience of science enthusiasts. 

Despite its title, the book actually tackles the subject in five main chapters - one for each of the four laws plus one on free energy. Each is concise, well-written, engaging and carefully structured, guiding the reader along with useful analogies in such a way that each chapter is built upon by the next. The author makes good use of illustrations, and perhaps as a relief to many potential readers, the use of mathematics is kept to a minimum. 

However, I’m not entirely convinced that there is enough content for fact-hungry specialists or that the book’s style of presentation make it accessible enough to the enquiring public it simultaneously aims to appeal to. That said, I found it an enjoyable and informative read - a worthwhile attempt to popularise a cornerstone subject of modern science without trivialising it at the same time.