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Book Review Seeing Is Believing Spectacular Experiments and Inspired Quotes. Chemical Curiosities. By H. W. Roesky and K. Mckel

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Seeing Is Believing
Spectacular Experiments and Inspired
Quotes. Chemical Curiosities. By
H. W. Roesky and K. Mockel. VCH
Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim, 1996.
339 pp., hardcover DM 68.00.ISBN 3-527-29414-7
This multifaceted description of some
124 demonstrations in chemistry is indeed
a pleasure to read as one might read
a volume of short
stories. Its brief
(about two pages
but detailed 2nd adequate directions
usually include sections on safety precautions, the apparatus, chemicals,
the procedure, an
explanation of the phenomenon, waste
disposal, and references. The 37 color figures are beautifully made, and add greatly
to the delight of the reader.
But there is much more: almost all of
the 124 descriptions are prefaced by remarkably appropriate quotes and bits of
history (including alchemy) attributed to
scientists, philosophers, artists, poets,
writers. and others.
Of course Goethe heads the list, while
others span the time from Lucretius to
Einstein, Linus Pauling, and on into the
present. These introductory quotes and
remarks provide continuity throughout
the experiments and the progress of the
book. and link to relationship between
the humanities and the science described
For example. the quotations approach
their zenith in Chapter 23 (The Thermite
Process, for which extreme caution is adtc
KOrilO %
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 book reviewers
are welcome. Publishers should send brochures
or (better) books to the Redaktion Angewandte
Chemie, Postfach 101161, D-69451 Weinheim,
Federal Republic of Germany. The editor reserves
the right orselecting which hooks will he reviewed.
Uninvited books not chosen for review will not be
Anger+,. C h n . 6 1 1 . Ed. Engl. 1997, 36, N o . 112
vised). The three quotations are as follows :
From Douglas Adams: There is a theory
that when someone.finds out precisely why
the universe exists, and,for what purpose, it
will disappear on the spot and be replaced
by something more bizarre and inconceivable.
There is another theory according to which
that has already occurred.
From Justus Liebig: Measured against
that which we desire, our knowledge and
understanding are clearly limited, and if in
this context we wish to regard ourselves as
children, then we know as well that we are
From Yogi Berra: ldon’f want to make the
wrong mistake.
Also preceding this thermite experiment
are excerpts of publications and letters
that illuminate Friedrich Wohler’s discovery of aluminum and the subsequent controversy with Henri Sainte-Claire Deville.
This matter was handled by Wohler in a
gentlemanly way, an example for our
As a personal note, I was surprised at
how many of these experiments I did in
my youth in the years after I had been
given a chemistry set when I was eleven
years old, and especially after I had greatly augmented this original supply of
chemicals and apparatus. Also, I was reminded of many demonstration experiments from in my undergraduate chemistry courses. However, times have
changed: chemistry sets are less interesting (and less hazardous), and demonstration experiments in courses occur less frequently.
I hope that a book such as this one may
reawaken or strengthen interest in these
striking experiments that illustrate many
of the ideas of chemistry. The emphasis on
chemical reactions is a reminder that
chemistry is unique among the sciences in
the extent to which it creates its own new
substances and to which it exhibits a special logic for syntheses and transformations of these substances.
The Foreword by Roald Hoffmann sets
the stage and invites you to try these
demonstrations, and he comments: “The
remarkable achievement of Herbert
Roesky’s and Klaus Mockei’s book is rhe
Verlagsgr.rellscha/t mhH, 0-69451 Weinherm, 1997
linkage it achieves between the world of
the human spirit, expressed in literature
and historical continuity, and the art of
chemical demonstration”.
William N . Lipscomb
Department of Chemistry
and Chemical Biology
Harvard University, Cambridge, M A
Qu’est-ce que l’alchimie? By P. Laszlo. Hachette, Paris, 1996. 144 pp.,
paperback Ffr 59.00.-ISBN 2-0123 5190-5
This little book is one in a popular scientific series entitled Questions de Science.
It is certainly not intended to be a history
of alchemy, especially since the author admits in the introduction that he does not
really understand the texts of the alchemists. The discussion is based on secondary literature, about half of which belongs to the fields of the esoteric and of
depth psychology. The author leads us
from the ancient world, via the Middle
Ages and the Renaissance. up to the 17th
and 18th centuries. These wanderings are
described in a conversational style, and
although the discussion takes account of
the results of recent historical research, it
lacks any in-depth analysis or serious
evaluation. Errors such as citing Robert
Boyle’s work The Sceptical Chymist with
an incorrect title and the wrong year of
publication (p. 104) are among the least
annoying faults. A more serious shortcoming is the neglect of some central elements of alchemy, such as its background
of natural philosophy, its tradition of
practical metallurgy, and its rich imagery.
Important historical differences become
blurred when, for example, the concepts
of yin and yang, sulfur and mercurius,
acid and base, anion and cation, o r electrophilicity and nucleophilicity, become
lumped together in a sort of universal
complementarity principle. When, in the
last chapter. the discussion spans the
range from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
via Jules Verne to Ernst Jiinger, one suspects that any hope of arriving at a histor0570-0833197!360/-0/69$ 15.00 + .25:0
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