J.C. Maxwell (1871)

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Theory of Heat by James Clerk Maxwell, published by Longmans, Green and Company and printed in Great Britain. This beautifully preserved copy is the 8th edition from 1885, printed six years after Maxwell’s death at the age of 48.

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“The whole science of heat is founded on Thermometry and Calorimetry, and when these operations are understood we may proceed to the third step, which is the investigation of those relations between the thermal and mechanical properties of substances which form the subject of Thermodynamics.”

So wrote Maxwell in the preface to this book, and this he does in clear and lucid prose that is simply a joy to read.

Maxwell uses no calculus and hardly any algebra, preferring geometry as the means of demonstrating relationships between quantities to often beautiful effect. He takes his time and is careful not to lose the reader in the presentation of argument.

The one place where Maxwell cuts loose is in his discussion of Gibbs’ classic paper on the representation of the thermodynamic properties of substances by means of surfaces. Maxwell’s diagram of this surface on page 207 has to be the wildest thing in the whole of thermodynamic literature:

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Maxwell actually constructed a plaster model of this surface in 1874 and sent it to Gibbs in America. It is now in a display case somewhere at Yale.

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You can read more about the model here

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