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Book Review Frontiers in Bioinorganic Chemistry. By A. V. Xavier

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The Poisonous Cloud, Chemical Warfare in the First World
War. By L. F. Haber. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1986. xiv,
415 pp., hardcover, L 35.00.--ISBN 0-19-858142-4
The cloud of poisonous gas that settled over the British
and French trenches at Ypres on 23 April 1915 was considered by some people to mark a turning point in the technological conduct of war and by most people as an act of
barbarism and a violation of the Hague Convention. Fritz
Haber (1886-1934), the German chemist and Nobel laureate (for the “synthesis of ammonia from air”), is generally
regarded, and probably rightfully so, as the inventor of gas
warfare. Since then, an immense amount of writing has
been devoted to this topic from a variety of standpoints:
neutral and purely technological, nationalistic and glorifying, humanistic and condemnatory, hateful and damning.
The most recent work is a monograph by L. F. Haber.
Who is L. F. Haber? He is the son of Fritz Haber, Reader
in Economics at the University of Surrey, and a prominent
scholar of the history of industrial chemistry. We d o not
wish to ask why L. F. Haber has written this book. Beyond
doubt, however, he has presented us with a superb, exceedingly objective work, based in part on new sources of
After a personal and historical introduction, the events
surrounding the first chlorine gas attack at Ypres are described. In the following chapters, the author shows how
reaction and counterreaction led to an escalation of chemical warfare on both sides and how chemical warfare underwent technological development without, however, becoming a decisive factor in the First World War. The threat
posed by this new weapon was greatly overestimated by
both sides, in part because of the ignorance of the general
public and the helplessness of the military in coming to
terms with technological and scientific matters. The
sources of information are excellently documented. Both
the author’s personal knowledge of the subject matter and
the collaboration of Fritz Haber’s English counterpart, the
chemist Sir Harold Hartley, proved very useful in this respect. The two scientists met in 1921 after Fritz Haber had
been awarded the Nobel prize and subsequently developed
a relationship verging on friendship. With Hartley’s support, Fritz Haber was offered a laboratory at the Chemical
Institute in Cambridge after he was forced to leave Germany in 1933. L. F. Haber presumably met Hartley
through his father.
A few words need to be said about the “prostitution of
science” for the purpose of gas warfare. It is nearly impossible for us, in 1987, to morally judge the way researchers
thought and acted in 1914. In any case, the prostitution did
not involve money. We Germans today, morally drained
by the period of National Socialist rule and grown lazy by
current prosperity, are hardly capable of imagining what
national spirit and patriotism meant at that time. It is even
harder for a younger generation in Germany to grasp that
Jewish Germans were then involved in military research
for their beloved mother country. In this connection, the
biography of the mathematician Richard Courant (18881972), who worked in Gottingen and was also forced to
leave Germany in 1933, is of particular interest (Constance
Reid: Richard Courant - Der Mathematiker als Zeitgenosse, Springer, Heidelberg 1979). During the First World
War, Courant invented the “ground telegraph,” which was
clearly a less inhuman discovery, if war inventions can be
measured at all in such terms. In Haber’s book, we en90
counter such names as Herbert B. Baker, J. B. Conant. Kar/
Duisberg. James Franck, Herbert Freundlich, Fritz Haber,
Otto Hahn. Sir Harold Hartley, Walter Nernst, Sir William
Pope, and J . F. Thorpe, and even the famous correspondence between Fritz Haber and Herrnann Staudinger is mentioned. “Staudinger replied placatingly, and his dignified
pacifism contrasts sharply with Haber’s intemperate selfjustification. The correspondence ended inconclusively but
it showed that the Chemical Warfare controversy cut
across professional lines.” Such personal remarks, however, occur only seldomly in the book. Overall, the book
presents an exact technological and historical account of
gas warfare in 1914-1918.
Little mention is made of why chemical warfare did not
take place during the Second World War. And completely
unaddressed is the issue of the nerve gases stored at present in the arsenals of the superpowers, the effect of which
would be to kill people like flies are killed with insect
spray: shaking, vomiting, foaming at the mouth, while
fully conscious-this is the vision of “Chemical Warfare”
in the second half of the 20th century. Let us hope that the
poisonous cloud remains history.
Friedrich Cramer [NB 816 IE]
Max-Planck-Institut fur experimentelle Medizin,
Gottingen (FRG)
Frontiers in Bioinorganic Chemistry. By A . V. Xauier. VCH
Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim 1986. xiii, 736 pp., bound,
DM 185.00.- ISBN 3-527-26460-4
This book contains the texts of the papers presented by
the invited speakers at the 2nd International Conference
on Bioinorganic Chemistry, held in Portugal in April 1985.
The 69 papers are contained in 12 chapters, with more
than 700 pages. Owing to the interdisciplinary nature of
bioinorganic chemistry, there is some degree of unavoidable overlapping between the papers, e.g. when iron-sulfur
proteins are discussed from the standpoint of the kineticist
or that of the spectroscopist.
Iron is the dominant transition metal in the living world,
and for that reason it is not surprising that the lion’s share
of the contributions (more than a third) are concerned
either directly or indirectly with that element. In addition
to the permanent oxygen carrier hemoglobin (and myoglobin), which has recently been studied with particular regard to electron transfer reactions between the heme group
and a redox-active metal (ruthenium, iron o r copper) at the
protein surface, much attention is also given to progress in
understanding the action of hemerythrin, the second most
important oxygen carrier after hemoglobin. Other iron-related topics treated here are the transport and storage of
iron, and cytochromes.
The emphasis on iron in this book does, however, reflect
to some extent a difficulty that besets research in bioinorganic chemistry, namely that elements whose electronic,
optical, or other properties are favorable for spectroscopic
measurements receive more intensive study than those
which are more difficult to observe. For example, zinc,
which is the second most abundant transition metal in nature, is treated in only one paper.
Topics concerned with the biochemistry of nickel (methanogenic bacteria, toxicity, carcinogenicity) form a secAngew. Chem. h i . Ed. Engl. 26 (1987) No. 1
ond major theme. Other contributions are concerned with
molybdenum, with trace elements in general, with biominerals, and with environmental aspects (with regard to
Ni, Al, As, and Pu). Quite a long chapter is devoted to the
use of spectroscopic methods in bioinorganic chemistry.
The chapter entitled “Nucleic Acid-Metal Ion Interactions” contains two excellent contributions on the reactions of metals with nucleosides and nucleotides and on
the structure and stability of metal-nucleotide complexes.
However, there is also a regrettably much too short “abstract” on the very interesting topic of the role of metals in
the replication and transcription of nucleic acids and their
translation into proteins, which also contains too few references.
A further chapter is headed “Metals in Medicine”. The
choice of topics here does not seem entirely a happy one.
There are two good contributions on the nature and treatment of metabolic disturbances caused by zinc, and on the
use of gold compounds in arthritis therapy, but also one on
the development of a pharmaceutical product from the initial idea to its application, which seems out of place, having no obvious connection with bioinorganic chemistry.
One looks in vain here for a paper reporting on new developments in the area of platinum cytostatics, which seems a
bad omission in view of the current importance of this
class of compounds in the treatment of various cancers.
Apart, however, from these few criticisms, “Frontiers in
Bioinorganic Chemistry” succeeds well as a presentation
of the current situation in this field.
Bernhard Lippert [NB 773 IE]
Institut fur Anorganische und Analytische Chemie
der Universitat Freiburg (FRG)
Plasma Polymerization. By H. Yasuda. Academic Press,
New York 1985. x, 432 pp., bound, $ 62.00.--ISBN 012-768760-2
Plasma polymerization means the formation of polymeric substances from organic vapors in low temperature
plasmas (i.e. electrical discharges in gases). The polymers
are formed at pressures between lo-’ and 10 mbar and
near-ambient temperatures, usually as thin films on glass,
metal o r polymer substrates. Although the effect has been
known for many years (the earliest paper cited is that by P.
de Wilde, published in 1874 in Ber. Dtsch. Chem. Ges.), its
existence had not been much noticed u p to about 1960. Attention was first drawn to this particular type of synthesis
and its potential technical importance in a publication by
J . Goodman. Since 1970 the American Chemical Society
has held regular symposia on the topic, so contributing appreciably to the spreading of interest in the technique.
Plasma polymerization is an interdisciplinary topic,
which is best approached from the background of thinfilm technology in association with high-vacuum preparative techniques. The author begins with some introductory
chapters which cover the fundamental basis of plasma polymerization, the kinetic theory of gases and the theory of
plasmas, dealing with the ionization of molecules by electron impact, ion-molecule reactions, reactions of excited
molecules, and also the effects of the accompanying UV
radiation. This is followed by a summary of the kinetics of
polymerization, with particular emphasis on polymerization by free radicals, ionic polymerization, and radiationinduced polymerization. While plasma polymerization has
little in common with addition polymerization, it is closely
Angew. Chern. Inr. Ed. Engl. 26 (1987) No. I
related to radiation-induced polymerization; on the other
hand, it is a particular type of vacuum polymerization.
It is not until Chapters 6 and 8 that the author comes to
the central theme and the main part of the book, namely
the reaction kinetics and mechanisms of plasma polymerization. To systematically describe the enormous variety of
reactions, which is a consequence of the varied and multifunctional nature of the building blocks and the smallness
of many of these, is a daunting task. The products are for
the most part highly branched and cross-linked, and often
differ from conventional polymers. The methods for analyzing them are also discussed here.
An intermediate chapter deals with the opposite process
which accompanies plasma polymerization, whereby material is removed in the plasma (etching process), and with
the deposition of material by sputtering which also occurs.
This is followed by a detailed chapter on the experimental
arrangements used, and the effects of the many experimental variables which critically influence the results obtained.
As a result of their molecular structures the polymers deposited often show unusual properties, which can give
them some technological importance. In particular they
show extremely strong adhesion to the support, and are
highly resistant chemically. These and other characteristics, along with their electrical properties, especially their
conductivities and dielectric constants, are the subject of
the last two chapters of the book.
Eleven years have passed since the publication of the
last monograph dealing with this topic (Hollahan and Bell:
Techniques and Applications of Plasma Chemistry), and
books such as that of Baddour and Timmins, and that of
McTaggart, are already as old as 18 years. For this reason
alone the publication of the present book is to be welcomed. It contains so many new results, in a concise and
readable form, that it must be recommended for reading by
specialists in the field. In interpreting experimental results
the author has tended to disregard alternative explanations
proposed by others; such a bias can be accepted in view of
the author’s competence.
Emst-Giinther Schlosser [NB 778 IE]
Hoechst Aktiengesellschaft, Frankfurt/Main (FRG)
Metalloproteins. Pt. 1 : Metal Proteins with Redox Roles.
Pt. 2: Metal Proteins with Non-Redox Roles. Edited by P.
Harrison. VCH Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim 1985. Pt.
1 : xi, 256 pp., bound, DM 138.00.--ISBN 3-527-26136-2;
Pt. 2: xii, 339 pp., bound, DM 166.00.--ISBN 3-52726137-0
Volumes 6 and 7 of the series Topics in Molecular and
Structural Biology deal with the enormous progress that
has occurred in inorganic biochemistry (also called bioinorganic chemistry) in the last twenty years. This is quite a
demanding task, since the questions surrounding the role
of metal ions in living organisms cross the conventional
boundaries of research specialisms, and the multidisciplinary nature of the undertaking stretches the holistic point
of view to its limits. There are already several series of progress reports in green, orange o r blue covers, which for
more than ten years have been presenting bioinorganic
matters. Is this an opportune time to extend the range of
colors? The editor Pauline Harrison and the publishers are
to be congratulated on the idea of presenting the current
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