In this classic of modern science, the Nobel Laureate presents a clear treatment of systems, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, entropy, thermodynamic potentials, and much more. Calculus required.
Okay so what is it about. I think personally this book is for someone who has already taken courses on or at least understands classical thermodynamics. Because this book is an elegant introduction to the field in a brief form. It is not a thick learning book with problems so you can design a better turbine when you are finished. It is an elegant supplemental source of information from a master.
Having taken statistical mechanics through the graduate school level in physics, I bought the book and enjoyed the book as a sort of intellectual refresher. The aim is to see it his way, from his perspective, sitting under a tree with a glass of wine in one hand and the book in another. It was to enjoy and appreciate his writings and his "lecture" on this aspect of physics.
The book is suitable for someone with one or two years of physics or engineering.
Jack in Toronto
The mathematics assumes familiarity with calculus, including partial differentiation. Fermi provides clear explanations and motivation for the mathematics and the derivations are complete and easy to follow. For example, he carefully explained the form of a perfect differential of two variables and how it can be more readily integrated. I appreciated this help.
The first four chapters will be familiar to students of physics: Thermodynamic Systems, First Law of Thermodynamics, Second Law of Thermodynamics, and Entropy. The derivation of the Clapeyron equation and the Van der Waals equation may be new to some students.
Thereafter, the text begins to look more like physical chemistry with chapters titled Thermodynamic Potentials, Gaseous Reactions, Thermodynamics of Dilute Solutions, and the Entropy Constant. I found these last chapters to be more difficult, but not overly so.
At some points Thermodynamics becomes a real page-turner, but not in the sense of a fast-paced action story. The page-turning is necessary to retrieve earlier mathematical expressions. Occasionally, you will encounter statements like "the expression for the free energy is immediately obtained from equations (111), (29), and (86)." Fermi does not allow the reader to forget earlier derivations and discussions.
If your familiarity with thermodynamics is limited (or now foggy due to the passage of years), I suggest first reading Understanding Thermodynamics by H. C. Van Ness. This 100-page book, a series of lectures, is an excellent introduction to thermodynamics from an engineering and physics perspective. It corresponds to the first four chapters of Fermi's text.