Books  Physical Sciences  Physics 

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

By: Jennifer Coopersmith

416 pages, 45 b/w line and halftone illustrations

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Jul 2010 | #187379 | ISBN-13: 9780199546503
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.95 $37/€35 approx

About this book

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.

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 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


1. Introduction: Feynman's blocks; 2. Perpetual motion is prohibited; 3. Vis viva: the fist 'block' of energy; 4. Heat: 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 via Daniel Bernoulli; 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: Mayer, Joule and Waterston; 15. Faraday and Helmholtz; 16. The laws of thermodynamics: Thomson and Clausius; 17. A forward look: Maxwell, Boltzmann, Planck, Schrodinger and Einstein; 18. Impossible things; difficult things; 19. Conclusions

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