Thermodynamic Weirdness

Thermodynamic Weirdness

From Fahrenheit to Clausius

By Don S. Lemons

An account of the concepts and intellectual structure of classical thermodynamics that reveals the subject's simplicity and coherence.





An account of the concepts and intellectual structure of classical thermodynamics that reveals the subject's simplicity and coherence.

Students of physics, chemistry, and engineering are taught classical thermodynamics through its methods—a “problems first” approach that neglects the subject's concepts and intellectual structure. In Thermodynamic Weirdness, Don Lemons fills this gap, offering a nonmathematical account of the ideas of classical thermodynamics in all its non-Newtonian “weirdness.” By emphasizing the ideas and their relationship to one another, Lemons reveals the simplicity and coherence of classical thermodynamics.

Lemons presents concepts in an order that is both chronological and logical, mapping the rise and fall of ideas in such a way that the ideas that were abandoned illuminate the ideas that took their place. Selections from primary sources, including writings by Daniel Fahrenheit, Antoine Lavoisier, James Joule, and others, appear at the end of most chapters. Lemons covers the invention of temperature; heat as a form of motion or as a material fluid; Carnot's analysis of heat engines; William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) and his two definitions of absolute temperature; and energy as the mechanical equivalent of heat. He explains early versions of the first and second laws of thermodynamics; entropy and the law of entropy non-decrease; the differing views of Lord Kelvin and Rudolf Clausius on the fate of the universe; the zeroth and third laws of thermodynamics; and Einstein's assessment of classical thermodynamics as “the only physical theory of universal content which I am convinced will never be overthrown.”


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262039390 190 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 20 b&w illus.


$16.95 T ISBN: 9780262538947 190 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 20 b&w illus.


  • “From machine learning to quantum gravity, thermodynamics is back - and, for most of us, as puzzling as ever. Don's book is unique: a (literally) steampunk introduction to the field that uses the history of science to put the strangeness of its core concepts on display.”

    Simon DeDeo

    Carnegie Mellon University and the Santa Fe Institute

  • "Thermodynamic Weirdness by Don Lemons is a book many of us have been waiting a lifetime for. The historical formulation of Classical Thermodynamics presents one of the greatest human sleuthing tales that science has to tell, and this carefully researched book lays out the story in all its dramatic detail. Only a real scientist with serious humanistic leaning and learning could have written this book. I warmly congratulate the author.”

    Louis J. Buchholz

    Professor of Physics Emeritus, California State University, Chico

  • “In Thermodynamic Weirdness, Don Lemons provides a fresh look at thermodynamics and thermodynamics pedagogy. He elegantly walks us through the laws of thermodynamics armed with a raft of historical documents analyzed with great clarity and with his unique insight. This book would make an excellent companion to traditional thermodynamics texts for any student of physics seeking a deeper understanding of what is definitely a 'weird' subject.”

    Edward A. Whittaker

    Professor of Physics, Stevens Institute of Technology

  • "This little book addresses the 'why' as well as the 'how' of classical thermodynamics through a historical analysis of the struggles of the founders themselves, using clear discussions and carefully selected readings from their original writings. It will appeal to students who want to go beyond the superficial (although highly successful) formalism of classical thermodynamics and understand its laws at a more fundamental level."

    H.J. Melosh

    Distinguished Professor, Earth, Atmosphere and Planetary Science, Purdue University