Energy, the Subtle Concept: The Discovery of Feynman's Blocks from Leibniz to Einstein

ISBN : 9780198716747

Jennifer Coopersmith
448 Pages
136 x 212 mm
Pub date
May 2015
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Energy is at the heart of physics and of huge importance to society and yet no book exists specifically to explain it, and in simple terms. In tracking the history of energy, this book is filled with the thrill of the chase, the mystery of smoke and mirrors, and presents a fascinating human-interest story. Moreover, following the history provides a crucial aid to understanding: this book explains the intellectual revolutions required to comprehend energy, revolutions as profound as those stemming from Relativity and Quantum Theory. Texts by Descartes, Leibniz, Bernoulli, d'Alembert, Lagrange, Hamilton, Boltzmann, Clausius, Carnot and others are made accessible, and the engines of Watt and Joule are explained. Many fascinating questions are covered, including: - Why just kinetic and potential energies - is one more fundamental than the other? - What are heat, temperature and action? - What is the Hamiltonian? - What have engines to do with physics? - Why did the steam-engine evolve only in England? - Why S=klogW works and why temperature is IT. Using only a minimum of mathematics, this book explains the emergence of the modern concept of energy, in all its forms: Hamilton's mechanics and how it shaped twentieth-century physics, and the meaning of kinetic energy, potential energy, temperature, action, and entropy. It is as much an explanation of fundamental physics as a history of the fascinating discoveries that lie behind our knowledge today.


1. Introduction: Feynman's Blocks
2. Perpetual Motion
3. Vis viva, the First 'Block' of Energy
4. Heat in the Seventeenth Century
5. Heat in the Eighteenth Century
6. The Discovery of Latent and Specific Heats
7. A Hundred and One Years of Mechanics: Newton to Lagrange
8. A Tale of Two Countries: the Rise of the Steam Engine and the Caloric Theory of Heat
9. Rumford, Davy, and Young
10. Naked Heat: the Gas Laws and the Specific Heat of Gases
11. Two Contrasting Characters: Fourier and Herapath
12. Sadi Carnot
13. Hamilton and Green
14. The Mechanical Equivalent of Heat
15. Faraday and Helmholtz
16. The Laws of Thermodynamics: Thomson and Clausius
17. A Forward Look
18. Impossible Things, Difficult Things
19. Conclusions

About the author: 

Jennifer Coopersmith took her PhD in nuclear physics from the University of London, and was later a research fellow at TRIUMF, University of British Columbia. She was for many years an associate lecturer for the Open University (London and Oxford). She currently does similar work on astrophysics courses for Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne while based at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Victoria.

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