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The origins of rational thermodynamics. (English) Zbl 0598.73002
Rational thermodynamics, 1-57 (1984).
”I do not think it possible to write the history of a science until that science itself shall have been understood, thanks to a clear, explicit, and decent logical structure... Thermodynamics... has never had the benefit of a magisterial synthesis like that which Euler gave to hydrodynamics in 1757 or that which Maxwell gave to electromagnetism in 1873.”
These beliefs have guided C. Truesdell in his long committment to a careful and detailed examination of the sources and tortous path of the science of thermodynamics, and, for that science, to the search for strong and anassailable foundations, the attainement of a logical structure a modern mathematician would accept, its forging as an indispensable tool for the study of behaviour of continuous media. His books on the subject, even if controversial, have been milestones for the practitioners, in particular his treatise on ”The tragicomical history of thermodynamics, 1822-1854” has met admiration together with sharp criticism, the latter based not so much on matter of fact, as on emphasis and style.
This essay, introductory to the second edition of the book on ”Rational Thermodynamics”, is ”designed to give the mathematically inclined and critical beginner a rough outline of what the reader of its first edition would have been helped by knowing... abut the debt of recent researches to the solid and permanent discoveries of the pioneers..., though by the time of the first edition much of the historical thicket whence thermodynamics grew had not been cleared”.
It ”must not be taken (the Author insists) as a history”, for it concerns ”select positive achievements and one regress”. In fact the essay reviews the main contributions to thermodynamics prior to 1963; for the earlier work it owes much to the treatise mentioned above but then proceeds with a critical report of Kirchhoff’s thermomechanical field theory of heat transfer, Maxwell’s kinetic theory, Gibbs’ thermostatics and the later studies of Duhem, Boltzmann, Mach and Planck. A particular attention is paid to the formal axiomatisation by Caratheodory, mainly to show (against a background of a general praise) its mathematical and physical shortcomings; in fact the criticism is punctually substantiated in a long appendix.
Thus the stage is set for an appreciation of recent contributions to rational thermodynamics, whose program (far from being completed) is to refound that science ”as a clear and explicit branch of mathematical physics, at a standard of concept and method not inferior to those of mechanics and electromagnetism”.
Some readers will, no doubt, be outraged by this essay; others will at least feel uneasy; many, I am sure, will enjoy it. In any case, hot reactions and ardent arguments are welcome in a field, which, contrary to what many textbooks try to make believe, is still in a rather unsettled state.
Reviewer: G.Capriz

74A15 Thermodynamics in solid mechanics
80-03 History of classical thermodynamics
74-03 History of mechanics of deformable solids
80A20 Heat and mass transfer, heat flow (MSC2010)
01A55 History of mathematics in the 19th century
01A60 History of mathematics in the 20th century