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I've been working on some projects lately where it would be very handy to know more about thermodynamics than I do, but sadly I never had a chance to take a proper thermodynamics course in college. Unfortunately, right now I don't have the time to work through a 500-600 page undergraduate text on the subject. Can anyone recommend a book/online resource/PDF that perhaps gives a (calculus based) broad overview of classical thermodynamics, say in something less than 200 pages?

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Before answering, please see our policy on resource recommendation questions. Please write substantial answers that detail the style, content, and prerequisites of the book, paper or other resource. Explain the nature of the resource so that readers can decide which one is best suited for them rather than relying on the opinions of others. Answers containing only a reference to a book or paper will be removed!

Enrico Fermi's book on thermodynamics is thin and excellent. It should be in every library and it has recently been published in Dover so it must be cheap. – drake Sep 13 '12 at 5:50
@drake that would be the sort of thing to post as an answer – David Z Sep 13 '12 at 6:40
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Thermodynamics by Enrico Fermi seems to be what you're looking for. I bought it for less than ten dollars. It's about a hundred and fifty pages and starts from the axioms. And it's very well written.

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I agree, but be sure to keep in mind the conventions Fermi uses for work done on/done by a system. They were the opposite of what I used in my undergraduate class. – Physics_Plasma Apr 14 '14 at 4:05

I always loved Callen's Thermodynamics. In 200-250 pages you get the whole structure of thermodynamics more clearly than anywhere else. And it is wonderfully written, a fun and easy read. When I was in college I essentially studied these pages in a long weekend. Of course back in those days I had the time to fully concentrate on a single thing.

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Callen is really nice. It is the book on equilibrium thermodynamics. – Arnold Neumaier Sep 16 '12 at 15:10

Have a look at my paper Phenomenological thermodynamics , which summarizes the core of thermodynamics in 18 pages, essentially starting from scratch. (A preliminary version of it is in Chapter 7 of my online book 2, and can be read independent of the remainder of the book.)

Understanding this is enough to enable you to understand the articles in Wikipedia (start here) on states of matter, phase transitions, and other thermal phenomena.

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"Thermal Physics" by Finn is a small and excellent book, and suits what the question is looking for. It's a great first book to read on Thermodynamics. It has lots of calculations worked out nicely. Moreover it has plenty of good diagrams.

It is slightly longer than you want, at 270 pages, but it's tiny, only A5 or so, so you'll get through it in not too long.

I think The physics department Thermodynamics course based on this book was 2.5 ECTS worth and took 18 lectures.

It's also quite cheap, which is a plus!

A list of topics (taken from amazon) [I don't really know what the point of this is, since I have no doubt in your ability to search amazon, but it's in the rules...] is

Preface Introduction

  1. Temperature
  2. Reversible Proceses and Work
  3. The First Law of Thermodynamics
  4. The Second Law of Thermodynamics
  5. Entropy
  6. The Thermodynamic Potentials & the Maxwell Relations
  7. Some General Thermodynamic Relations
  8. Magnetic Systems, Radiation, Rubber Bands & Electrolyte Cells
  9. Change of Phase
  10. Open Systems & Chemical Potential
  11. The Third Law of Thermodynamics

Apendix A - Values of Physical Constants and Conversion Factors Apendix B - Some Mathematical Relations Used In Thermodynamics Apendix C - The Work Required To Magnetise A Magnetic Material & To Polarise A Dielectric Apendix D - Questions Apendix E - Answers To Questions Apendix F - Further Reading


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There are some excellent recommendations above, but the best introduction to classical thermodynamics I've found is the first 70 pages of J. S. Dugdale's Entropy and its Physical Meaning.

He follows the historical development of the subject, including page long quotes from the likes of Fahrenheit, Joule and Carnot. He develops the idea of the Carnot engine, and uses it to show the existence of a new state variable, called the entropy, which he shows is always increasing.

It's readable, logically very clear, and historically interesting. My only complaint would be it doesn't cover much beyond the absolute basics. In many respects, it complements Callen's text perfectly: Dugdale gives all the historical details and phenomenological, experimental motivation for the basic ideas of thermodynamics, Callen takes these as postulates and shows their wondrous power.

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