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Book Review Profiles Pathways and Dreams. Autobiographies of Eminent Chemists. Edited by J. I

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Profiles, Pathways and Dreams. Autobiographies of Eminent
Chemists. Edited by 1 I. Seeman. American Chemical Society, Washington, D. C. 1990. D. J. Cram. From Design to
Discovery. xxi, 146 pp., hardcover $24.85.--ISBN0-84121768-8; C. Djerassi. Steroids Made it Possible. xxiv,
205 pp., hardcover $24.85.-ISBN 0-8412-1773-4; E. L.
Eliel. From Cologne to Chapel Hill. xxxi, 138 pp., hardcover $24.95.--ISBN 0-8432-1767-X; J. D. Roberts. The
Right Place at the Right Time. xix, 299pp., hardcover
$24.95.--ISBN 0-8412-1766-1
Jeffrey I. Seeman, an American industrial chemist who
tells us that he has always been interested in the human side
of scientific developments, suggested to the books department of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 1986 that
they should publish a volume of autobiographical essays by
eminent chemists. The ACS took up this idea, but both they
and the editor soon found that the project began to develop
a life of its own, so that by the time it is finished (at least for
the time being!) there will be no less than 22 individual volumes. The series has now been given the general title “Profiles, Pathways and Dreams”, and the first four autobiographies (consisting of nearly 800 pages altogether!) have appeared and are reviewed here. My verdict can be summarized
in one sentence: please let us have more soon! (Since this was
written the number of volumes has in fact grown to ten).
The clever and carefully-considered choice of authors
means that the level of interest in the series is unlikely to fade
soon. As well as applying the criterion that each author must
have made fundamental contributions to organic chemistry
over a long period, much importance has also been placed on
maintaining the international quality of the project. The authors eventually enlisted (ominously, it is stated in the preface that “Not all who were invited chose to participate, and
not all who should have been invited could be asked”) represent experiences of teaching and research in thirteen countries altogether.
These first volumes of the series can be read at several
quite different levels, and this is likely to be true also of later
volumes. In the first place, of course, they are the life stories
of the authors, in which the human dimension and the
dreams come out to a varying degree depending on temperament and frankness, sometimes strongly (Djerassi) and
sometimes with more reserve (Cram). Here each reader will
develop his or her own particular affinities. For me it was
Roberts’ autobiography that pleased most: his sober style
and absence of illusions, his modesty (“Memory of the titans
of any given era of modern chemistry tends to fade rapidly
from generation to generation”), the humor, both overt and
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veiled, and the occasional adverse comments about colleagues.
Secondly, these “blue volumes” (each with a profile on the
cover in gold of the author portrayed therein!) are also excellent textbooks of chemistry, since their authors describe in
detail how their research aims have developed over the
decades: by studying the classic examples one gains mastery
of a science. In this connection it is also interesting to note at
how early a stage each author discovered his (scientific) leitmotif in every case, and how steadfastly he continued to
pursue it over a very long period and developed it further
using the latest techniques. This possibly characterizes one of
the main differences compared with present-day research in
organic chemistry: the research of the fifties to seventies
which is described in these autobiographies (the average age
of the authors being around seventy) was more noticeably
“inner-directed” (to use a term coined by David Riesmnn, a
sociologist of that period), in contrast to the strongly “outerdirected” research of today. The main reason for this could
be the considerable changes that have occurred in the system
of supporting and rewarding research. The scarcity of financial support and of material resources in general in those
earlier years forced researchers to be more self-reliant. Here
again Roberts provides a good example, constructing his
own glass apparatus, and later his own NMR spectrometers
which he continued to develop. In those days there was no
talk of creativity prizes, reagents of the year, or other such
gimmicks originating from the world of scientific marketing.
Thirdly, these volumes are a tribute to the American university system. This is at the same time both very elitist and
democratic in character, has a strong internationalist tradition, as is clearly shown by the experiences of the immigrants
Djerassi and Eliel during their first years in American universities, and provides academic freedom (researchers remain
almost exclusively researchers, rather than administrators as
tends to happen in Germany).
This series of volumes will not add up to a history of
modern organic chemistry; that purpose cannot be achieved
through autobiographies, and it will certainly not be attempted. On the other hand, when the series is complete we
shall have a very rich and colorful patchwork of chemistry,
made up additionally of many interesting and sometimes
amusing snapshots, together with many brilliant highlights.
Henning Hops [NB 1159 I E ]
Institut fur Organische Chemie
der Technischen Universitat Braunschweig (FRG)
Heteroatom Chemistry. Edited by E. Block. VCH Publishers,
New York 1990. xii, 376pp., hardcover DM178.00.ISBN 0-89573-743-4
“Heteroatom chemistry” is usually understood to mean
the organoelement chemistry of the elements in main-groups
3 to 7 of the Periodic Table (i.e. the 13th to 17th groups). This
book is based on twenty plenary lectures delivered at the
International Conference on Heteroatom Chemistry
(ICHAC) held in Albany, NY, in 1989. The presentation of
this material in book form is almost beyond reproach.
This very extensive subject could not be covered in a mere
376 pages; the editor has therefore limited the contents to an
overview of the current situation regarding the applications
of heteroatom compounds (excluding those of nitrogen and
0570-0833191/0909-1190$3.50+ .2510
Angew. Chem. Inr. Ed. Engl. 30 (1991) No. 9
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