This paper is concerned with the entropy of an action of a countable torsion-free abelian group G by continuous automorphisms of a compact abelian group X. A formula is obtained that expresses the entropy in terms of the Mahler measure of a greatest common divisor, complementing earlier work by Einsiedler, Lind, Schmidt and Ward. This leads to a uniform method for calculating entropy whenever G is free. In cases where these methods do not apply, a possible entropy formula is conjectured. The entropy of subactions is examined and, using a theorem of P. Samuel, it is shown that a mixing action of an infinitely generated group of finite rational rank cannot have a finitely generated subaction with finite non-zero entropy. Applications to the concept of entropy rank are also considered.