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Book Review Compromises Quality Quantity and Cost Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists. 2nd Edition. Edited by J. Daintith S. Mitchell E. Tootill and D

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Compromises: Quality, Quantity, and Cost
Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists. 2nd Edition. Edited by J: Daintith, S. Mitchell, E. Tootill and D .
Gjertsen. Institute of Physics, Bristol
and Philadelphia, 1994. Two-volume
set, 1075 pp., hardcover E 95.00.ISBN 0-7503-0287-9
Whereas book reviews are usually written by request of editors of learned journals, the present report has been prompted by my experiences while using this
recently purchased two-volume encyclopedia. First I have to make a confession:
I did not read the encyclopedia from cover
to cover. I only perused it in the course of
some work I am doing, which led me to
consult only about 100 of its 2000 short
biographies. Secondly, being a chemist
with some physical leanings, my 5 %
sample concerns mainly chemistry and
could therefore be a biased one. A mathematician or an astronomer may well get a
different impression from that reported
According to the masthead, no fewer
than seven proofreaders have read the encyclopedia’s 1075 pages, compiled by 15
contributors. Despite this, the name of
one of my teachers, Nobel prize winner
Leopold Ruzicka, is consistently (eight
times) misspelled “Ruicka”, and that of
another one, Christopher Longuet-Higgins, is always graced with a second “t”
i.e. “Longuett”. Heyrovsky is shortened
to “Heyrovsk” and Benjamin Thompson,
later Lord Rumford, has been renamed
“Thomson”. Gerd Binnig, who shared the
Nobel prize for the invention of the scanning tunneling electron microscope, is renamed “Bining”, Conrad Gessner becomes “Gesner”, and in Newton’s
biography his mathematical rival is called
“Liebnitz”. Von Laue’s coworker in the
This section contains book reviews and a list of
new books received by the editor. Book reviews are
written by invitation from the editor. Suggestions
for books to be reviewed and for hook reviewers
are welcome. Publishers should send brochures or
(better) books to Dr. Ralf Baumann, Redaktion
Angewandte Chemie, Postfach 10 11 61, D-69451
Weinheim, Federal Republic of Germany. The editor reserves the right of selecting which books will
be reviewed. Uninvited books not chosen for
review will not be returned.
Angew.. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1995, 34, N o . 19
discovery of X-ray diffraction is named
“Kipping” instead of Knipping. We are
told that Professor Wittig worked in
“Heidelberg”, that Chaim Weizmann obtained his doctorate in “Freiburg, Germany” instead of Fribourg, Switzerland,
and that Richard Stock died in 1946 “in
Karlsruhe, now in Germany”. Albert Einstein’s biography mentions his four fundamental papers published in 1905 in Annalen der Pliysik. However, the one on
Brownian movement, claimed to be the
first one, was in fact the second (pp. 549560 of Vol. 17) and its German title is
quoted with four mistakes in it, whereas
the paper on the photoelectric effect, said
to be the second paper, was in fact the first
one (pp. 132-148 of the same volume).
The two volumes are so very sparsely
illustrated that the reader feels drawn almost automatically to look at the few figures. Leaving aside the fact that the reasons for the particular choice of some of
these illustrations are not always obvious,
it seems strange that they are not referred
to in the text and that they lack a detailed
explanatory caption, in particular with
respect to the symbols used. One of these
illustrations purports to show a twodimensional section through the groundstate electron cloud of the hydrogen atom
according to Schrodinger. Instead of having a maximum at the origin and falling
off with increasing distance, the electron
density is zero at the origin with a maximum at some unspecified distance r from
it. Obviously the authors have confused
the density function YY* with the radial
distribution 4nr2Y Y * . Augustin Fresnel’s
biography is followed by a figure allegedly
showing the section through a Fresnel
lens. If this were true, the lens would be
about as effective as a window pane, the
inner and outer faces of the individual
rings being parallel to each other.
The work of Biot, who discovered in
1815 that certain liquids (e.g. turpentine,
solutions of camphor) rotate the plane of
polarized light, is illustrated by showingwithout comment-the stereo-formulas
of the enantiomers of tartaric acid! However, Pasteur’s work on ammonium tartrate dates from 1848, and the two formulas shown were not known until Van’t
Hoffs and Le Bel’s publications in 1874.
VerIugsgesellschuJrjlmhH, 0-69481 Weinheim, 1995
Unfortunately, Le Bel’s biography in the
encyclopedia is accompanied by a linear
formula for water, H-0-H, and by planar (!) formulas for methane, ethanol, and
dimethylether with 90” HCH bond angles
and a linear C-0-C bond. But these pale
into insignificance compared with the following two formulas for methylene chloride, which are presumably supposed to
illustrate the phenomenon of enantiomerism:
The account of Ziegler’s Nobel prize
winning research is illustrated by portions
of isotactic and syndiotactic polypropylene chains. These should, of course, have
accompanied the biography of Giulio
Natta, who shared the Nobel prize with
Ziegler. Also, the two formulas depicting
Alfred Werner’s coordination complexes
lack a central metal atom. The author
consortium’s lack of appreciation of
chemistry (see also the comment on
“Chronology” below) is amusingly obvious from statements such as “[Willstaetter’s] work on chlorophyll was justified in
1960 when Robert Woodward succeeded
in synthesizing the compounds described
by his formulae and came up with chlorophyll”. You can almost see Woodward’s
surprised reaction.
The most remarkable illustration is that
following the biography of Copernicus.
To counter possible disbelief, this figure is
reproduced directly from the encyclopedia:
planetary motion
The epicyclic motion of
OS70-083319813419-2167$ lO.OO+ .2SjO ‘‘
The whirring sound you hear is Copernicus rotating in his grave.
In the preface the editors discuss their
selection criteria. With regard to 20th century candidates, many of them still living,
they are “guided by lists of prizes and
awards made by scientific societies ...”
and in addition the “compilers and editors
have used their own judgement in choosing what is important or useful”. However, it is sometimes rather difficult to appreciate the basis of such judgements.
Whereas one will look in vain for chemists
such as H. Meerwein, A. Katchalsky, S.
Winstein, G. Olah, J. A. Pople, E. Wiberg,
W. Reppe, T. Nozoe, G . Schwarzenbach,
or G. Wilke--to name but a few at random-we are told at great length about F.
Hurter whose only claim to fame (according to the authors) is that he became chief
chemist at Holbrook Gaskell & Henry
Deacon’s alkali factory. Or take Lyon
Playfair, 1st Baron, on whom I stumbled
by accident. “As a politician he was reasonably successful” we are told, but as a
scientist he was obviously a failure, nothing of relevance being reported. Even
some physicists, such as W. Kossel, G .
Wenzel, T. Koopmans (who, admittedly,
gained his Nobel prize in economics), or
even such an important contributor to the
quantum theory as Friedrich Hund (!)
were not considered worthy of inclusion,
in contrast to Erno Rubik (his first name
is given as “Erno”) whose invention of a
toy, the Rubik cube, earns him a longer
entry than those of many living scientists.
In a section entitled “Chronology” the
authors have compiled year by year what
they consider the most important discoveries in the fields of mathematics, physics,
chemistry, biology, and medicine. During
the last 40 years, roughly the span of an
academic lifetime, chemists and in particular organic chemists must have been
sound asleep. Whereas scientists working
in other fields seem to have produced
noteworthy results practically every year,
chemistry is mentioned only ten times. Of
these ten entries, three refer to fullerenes
and three to the depletion of the ozone
layer by chlorofluorohydrocarbons. The
remaining four mentions concern the discovery of crown ethers by Pedersen, the
preparation of rare gas compounds by
Bartlett, Prigogine’s work on irreversible
thermodynamics, and the discovery of
quasi-crystals by Shechtman. The latter’s
name is misspelled “Schectman”, and although his important work is deemed
worthy of mention in the chronology, a
biographical note devoted to Shechtman
is lacking.
These shortcomings may be regarded as
nothing but nagging criticism of points of
21 68
minor importance, but they do not inspire
confidence in the reliability of biographies
of scientists you know little or nothing
about. In this connection, my major criticism is that the encyclopedia does not
contain a single reference to primary o r
secondary literature. Not only are we not
told the sources of the information given,
but the reader is offered no help at all if he
or she wants to follow up or complement-and
check! !----the short biographies provided. Thus, if you want additional information, you must do what you
would have done anyway without the encyclopedia, namely go to the library to
search for reliable works of reference and
Edgar Heilbronner
Herrliberg (Switzerland)
The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists. Second Edition. Edited by R.
Porter. Oxford University Press, New
York, 1994. LVII, 891 pp., hardcover
$ 85.00 (also published in Great
Britain as The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography,
Helicon, Oxford, 1994, Z 50.00) .ISBN 0-19-521083-2
In the mid-1980s Peter Bedrick (New
York) published and Harper & Row (New
York) distributed a six-volume set, The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, edited
by David Abbott, with volume titles Astronomers (1984), Biologists (I 984),
Chemists (1984), Physicists (1984), Mathematicians (1986), and Engineers and Inventors (1986). Now Roy Porter, Associate Director of the Wellcome Institute of
the History of Medicine, London, and 34
other contributors have produced the second edition of this reference work in one
convenient volume, which includes entries
on men and women from ancient times to
the present day in the above fields of science plus geology, ranging in length from
seven lines (al-Sufi) to three pages (Sir
Isaac Newton). Arranged alphabetically
from Abbe to Zworykin, the entries not
only provide basic biographical information in a historical and scientific context
but also discuss the significance of the scientist’s contribution and show how the
scientist’s personal, social, political, religious, and artistic concerns affected his or
her life. The work also contains a
short general introduction and succinct
(6-7 page) historical reviews of the seven
fields (in the case of chemistry, a panorama recounting highlights from contributions of the ancient Egyptians to the discovery of buckyballs), along with 107
illustrations (but unfortunately no por-
VCH Verlugsgesell.~cliuflnzhH. 0.69451 W(+dieini, 1995
traits). Useful but unusual features for a
biographical dictionary are an extensive
(77-page) glossary of about 2000 items,
and appendices listing Nobel laureates for
chemistry, physiology or medicine, and
physics through 1993 and the grounds for
their awards. A detailed 47-page index
(3 columns per page), with names of the
biographees in capitals, facilitates quick
access to information. British spelling is
used consistently, and although the coverage is international, a surprisingly large
amount of space is devoted to British scientists, some of whom are only minor figures.
Some closely associated scientists, 25 in
all, are grouped together and discussed in
single entries, e.g., Beadle, Tatum, and
Lederberg; Crick, Watson, and Wilkins;
Fischer and Wilkinson; Hall and Hkroult.
Many, but by no means all, Nobel laureates are the subjects of entries. Psychiatrists and psychologists such as Adler,
Eysenck, Freud, Jung, and Piaget are included, as is Nicolas Bourbaki, the collective pseudonym for the group of mathematicians who have been publishing collectively and anonymously since the late
1930s. Although almost a third of the contributors to this volume are women, only
19 women are discussed, including wellknown scientists such as Rachel Carson,
Goeppert-Mayer, Hodgkin, Meitner, McClintock, and Yalow, and lesser-known
ones such as Hyman and Morgan. Obviously, additional efforts are required to
include women scientists in biographical
dictionaries such as this and others.
Unlike the 18-volume Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB), which is the
standard in this genre, the volume under
review here includes living subjects such
as science popularizers David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, and Carl Sagan. Although Lysenko,
Mendeleev, and Pavlov are included, Russian scientists such as Borodin, Butlerov,
Chugaev, Kurnakov, Lomonosov, Vernadsky and Zinin are missing, as are some
important chemists of other nationalities.
The extent of coverage is still not always
commensurate with the scientist’s contributions, a defect noted by at least one reviewer of the “Mathematicians” volume
of the first edition (D. V. Feldman, Choice
1986, 23, 1651). For example, Lavoisier
rates only a page, while lesser figures, in
chemistry and other fields, receive equal
or greater coverage. Although touted as
“updated and expanded,” the entry on
Henry Gilman (p. 277), who died in 1986,
and the passing mention of Robert Mullikan, who died in 1986 (p. 440), d o not
reflect this fact.
OS70-OR33/95:34/9-216R $ 10.00 ,2510
Angew. Chem. I n l . Ed. Engl. 1995, 34, No.
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