The Art Of Chemistry Myths Medicines And Materials

The Art Of Chemistry Myths Medicines And Materials Cover

Book: The Art Of Chemistry Myths Medicines And Materials by Arthur Greenberg

The Art Of Chemistry: Myths, Medicines And Materials by Arthur Greenberg (Department of Chemistry, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire) is an impressive, scholarly compilation of 72 outstanding essays on the history and nature of chemistry, ranging from myths about the origins of this fascinating area of science, down to great watershed experiments performed by dedicated pioneers in the field of chemistry. An informed and informative history which is superbly illustrated with 187 figures (including 16 full-color plates), The Art Of Chemistry is a truly fascinating survey and inquiry into the origins of a science that has substantially contributed throughout the years toward human advancement and civilization. The Art Of Chemistry is a very highly recommended addition to any academic Science History collection. Colin Russell once made a television film for the UK's Open University in which he demonstrated some of Edward Frankland's work in a mock-up laboratory built in the studio. Under the powerful studio lights, and in the film itself, the glass apparatus gleamed seductively, leading me to reflect on the wonderfully photogenic nature of chemistry. The visual appeal and power of alchemical paintings, symbols and emblems was elegantly captured by John Read over 50 years ago in his splendid book, The Alchemist in Life, literature and Art (1947). As far as the ideas and practice of chemistry are concerned, however, the economics of publishing has usually dictated that narrative should dominate over art. There have been attempts at greater pictorial generosity. The scholarly pre-war A Pictorial History of Chemistry (1939) by the pharmaceutical historians F. Ferchl and A. Suessenguth has long been a collector's item, but more recently the organic chemist and bibliophile, Arthur Greenberg, produced the light-hearted A Chemical History Tour: Picturing Chemistry from Alchemy to Modern Molecular Science (2000). (See rev. CH 19, Spring 2001) Primed by the deserved success of the latter, Greenberg again whets our visual appetites with a companion piece that provides another well-stocked gallery of pictures drawn from title-pages, tables and diagrams, cigarette/baseball cards and art works. These are used to illustrate three predominant features of the discipline's intellectual and experimental development -its myths, its medical connections, and its primary concern with materials. Although one of the author's aims is didactic - to help non-scientists understand how science works and to show how chemistry was done before it became largely hidden in black boxes - the predominant purpose (as with the former volume) is to entertain. The format and style are identical to the Chemistry History Tour: 188 illustrations (19 in color) and 72 essays. However, whereas previously the essays were elaborate captions to explain the pictures, in this sequel the illustrations serve to illuminate the essays that form a delightful "random walk through chemistry's imagery." The generously-sized reproductions have been selected from his own library, as well as that of fellow bibliophile, Roy G. Neville, and the Othmer Library of CHF. The essays, roughly signposted from chemistry's spiritual and mythological past through the twentieth century, are essentially playful and satirical, and sometimes earthy in humor. As with his previous book, there is material here in plenty for the chemist and bibliophile as well as for the "amiable historian" (Greenberg's wily term for the critical historian). In my own case, I was intrigued by his perceptive remark about a slower process of metamorphosis replacing stories of the instantaneous transformation of people and things in the twelfth century. I noted a primitive fume cupboard in a print from Johann Kunckel's Ars vitraria experimentalis (1679). There is a valuable comparison between affinity and periodic tables. It is challenging to have Greenberg's opinion that in 1853 Jules Pelouze and Edmond Fremy published the most beautiful textbook of chemistry ever written (Notions generale de chimie) in contrast to the awfully dull Chemia Courtata ("compressed chemistry", 1875) by the Montreal pharmacist A. H. Kollmyer. He also gives a much more complete discussion than I have seen before of the clairvoyant occult chemistry of the theosophists Anna Besant and Charles Leadbeater. As an old fan of Prout's hypothesis, I was also educated by Greenberg's observation that the speculation would never have been possible if the ratio of protonium to deuterium were 80:20 and not 99.98:0.014. Finally, I can't wait to find a copy of a novel new to me: Edwin Herbert Lewis, White Lightning (1923) whose 92 chapters are named after the elements and sequelled in order of their atomic numbers.

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