Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking

By William H. Cropper | Go to book overview

3
A Tale of Two Revolutions
Sadi Carnot

Reflections

The story of thermodynamics begins in 1824 in Paris. France had been rocked to its foundations by thirty-five years of war, revolution, and dictatorship. A king had been executed, constitutions had been written, Napoleon had come and gone twice, and the monarchy had been restored twice. Napoleon had successfully marched his armies through the countries of Europe and then disastrously into Russia. France had been invaded and occupied and had paid a large war indemnity.

In 1824, a technical memoir was published by a young military engineer who had been born into this world of social, military, and political turmoil. The engineer's name was Sadi Carnot, and his book had the title Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire. By “motive power” he meant work, or the rate of doing work, and “fire” was his term for heat. His goal was to solve a problem that had hardly even been imagined by his predecessors. He hoped to discover the general operating principles of steam engines and other heat engine devices that supply work output from heat input. He did not quite realize his purpose, and his work was largely ignored at the time it was published, but after Carnot's work was rediscovered more than twenty years later it became the main inspiration for subsequent work in thermodynamics.


Lazare Carnot

Although he always worked on the fringes of the scientific world of his time, Sadi Carnot did not otherwise live in obscurity. His father, Lazare, was one of the most powerful men in France during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Sadi was born in 1796 in the Paris Luxembourg Palace when Lazare was a member of the five-man executive Directory. Lazare Carnot served in highlevel positions for only about four years, but his political accomplishments and longevity were extraordinary for those turbulent times. Before joining the gov-

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Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • I - Historical Synopsis 3
  • 1 - How the Heavens Go 5
  • 2 - A Man Obsessed 18
  • II - Historical Synopsis 41
  • 3 - A Tale of Two Revolutions 43
  • 4 - On the Dark Side 51
  • 5 - A Holy Undertaking 59
  • 6 - Unities and a Unifier 71
  • 7 - The Scientist as Virtuoso 78
  • 8 - The Road to Entropy 93
  • 9 - The Greatest Simplicity 106
  • 10 - The Last Law 124
  • III - Historical Synopsis 135
  • 11 - A Force of Nature 137
  • 12 - The Scientist as Magician 154
  • IV - Historical Synopsis 177
  • 13 - Molecules and Entropy 179
  • V - Historical Synopsis 201
  • 14 - Adventure in Thought 203
  • VI - Historical Synopsis 229
  • 15 - Reluctant Revolutionary 231
  • 16 - Science by Conversation 242
  • 17 - The Scientist as Critic 256
  • 18 - Matrix Mechanics 263
  • 19 - Wave Mechanics 275
  • VII - Historical Synopsis 293
  • 20 - Opening Doors 295
  • 21 - On the Crest of a Wave 308
  • 22 - Physics and Friendships 330
  • 23 - Complete Physicist 344
  • VIII - Historical Synopsis 363
  • 24 - Iγ·∂ψ = Mψ 365
  • 25 - What Do You Care? 376
  • 26 - Telling the Tale of the Quarks 403
  • IX - Historical Synopsis 421
  • 27 - Beyond the Galaxy 423
  • 28 - Ideal Scholar 438
  • 29 - Affliction, Fame, and Fortune 452
  • Chronology of the Main Events 464
  • Glossary 469
  • Invitation to More Reading 478
  • Index 485
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