Energy, the Subtle Concept

Energy, the Subtle Concept : The discovery of Feynman's blocks from Leibniz to Einstein

3.86 (22 ratings by Goodreads)

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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.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 448 pages
  • 136 x 212 x 24mm | 529g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Revised
  • Revised ed.
  • 45 b/w line and halftone illustrations
  • 0198716745
  • 9780198716747
  • 82,515

Table of contents

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
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Review Text

The work is full of surprises, and some illuminating apercus. It makes one think about the subject in a new way - the connections made with dynamics, Hamilton and Lagrange are germane, and one never sees these in books on thermodynamics. Sir Aaron Klug, Nobel laureate, President of the Royal Society 1995-2000
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Review quote

This book makes me proud to be a physicist, for two reasons. First it is a tale of the giants of the past who contributed to our present understanding of energy, people whose astonishing intuition took them from gossamer clues to the understanding we have today of one of the most basic explanatory concepts in physics. We've had some pretty good players in our team. More than this - and this is the second reason - this is a story as much about invention as discovery
... I am sure all physicists would enjoy this book and indeed learn from it. * Australian Physics * This is a work of physics in substance and history in form. 'Energy, the Subtle Concept' is as much concerned with physicists as with physics. Its scientific interest is matched by human interest. Jennifer Coopersmith deftly brings to life the people who made the science throughout its history. * Charles C. Gillispie, Professor of History of Science Emeritus, Princeton University * The conservation of energy is arguably the most important law in physics. But what exactly is being conserved? Are some forms of energy more fundamental than others? You will have to read the book to find out. Coopersmith sets out to answer such questions and to explain the concept of energy through the history of its discovery. This is neither a straightforward narrative nor one for the faint-hearted. Those not put off by the odd bit of mathematics, will be
well-rewarded by dipping into this book. * Manjit Kumar, New Scientist * beautifully-written text ... Throughout, the book is sprinkled with anecdotes and, most importantly, insightful commentary, with a plethora of figures that assist the reader in digesting the concepts detailed. * Jay Wadhawan, University of Hull * The more I read this book, the more difficult it was to put it down ... [It] has a fascinating story to tell about the development of our understanding of energy as a physical quantity... * Matt Chorley, Popular Science * Coopersmith has been on a commendable personal journey to understand energy * Colin Axon, Energy Group Newsletter * In clear and engaging prose, Coopersmith shows how the modern understanding of energy was formulated, moving from the first documented discussions of simple machines and perpetual motion in ancient Greece, to the work of Gottfried Leibniz and other 17th-century thinkers, to Einstein's theory of relativity and beyond... 'Energy, the Subtle Concept' is a fascinating read, both physicists and nonphysicists who want to learn more about the history of energy will enjoy
it. * Lisa Crystal, Physics Today * I am pleased to heartily recommend Coopersmith's readable, enjoyable, and largely nonmathematical yet profound account of the development of an important physical concept - energy. With a vein of humor running throughout, it deals with an enormous compass of important topics seldom found elsewhere at this level. It should be of great interest and utility to students, both undergraduate and graduate, historians of science, and anyone interested in the concepts of
energy and their evolution through time. * George B. Kauffman, Chemical & Engineering News * The work is full of surprises, and some illuminating apercus. It makes one think about the subject in a new way - the connections made with dynamics, Hamilton and Lagrange are germane, and one never sees these in books on thermodynamics. * Sir Aaron Klug, Nobel laureate, President of the Royal Society 1995-2000 *
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About Jennifer Coopersmith

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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Rating details

22 ratings
3.86 out of 5 stars
5 23% (5)
4 50% (11)
3 18% (4)
2 9% (2)
1 0% (0)
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