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Book Review The Quiet Revolution Hermann Kolbe and the Science of Organic Chemistry. By A. J. Roche

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BOOKS
Controversial Life Now Acclaimed
The Quiet Revolution: Hermann Kolbe
and the Science of Organic Chemistry. By A . J. Rocke. University of
California Press, Berkeley, 1993.
XIII, 501 pp., hardcover $50.00.ISBN 0-520-08110-2
Adolf Wilhelm Hermann K o b e (18181884) is primarily known today for his
scathing and ridiculing attacks on August Kekule and
Jacobus Henricus
van? Hoff and for
his polemical criticisms of other contemporaries in the
pages of the J ~ W I I U I
,fiir prcrlitische Clwmi<,,
which he edited
from 1870 until his
death. His vituperative writings were so
intemperate that many contemporary and
later observers believed that he may have
been mentally ill. Yet such a view of K o b e
is woefully incomplete. He was a brilliant
experimenter who discovered many irnportant organic compounds and reactions. He helped develop the German system of science education, and his
laboratory in Leipzig, the largest and best
equipped of his day. attracted numerous
students from many countries. He was the
leader of synthetic organic chemistry during the 1850s and 1860s. and his synthesis
of acetic acid from its elements in 1844 provided a significant attack on the concept
of vitalism. which had not been completely overthrown by Wohler’s earlier (1 828)
and better known synthesis of urea.
K o b e was the influential, pivotal figure
in what Alan J. Rocke, Professor of History
at Case Western Reserve University and a
,
This swtion contains book reviews and a list of
neu books received by theeditor. Book reviews are
written by invitation from the editor. Suggestions
for books to be reviewed and for hook reviewers
arc u,eIcoinc. Publishers should send brochures or
(better) hooks to the Book Review Editor. Dr. Ralf
Baumann. Redaktion Angew,andte Chernie. Postf x h 101 161. D-69451 Weinheim, Federal Republic of Gertnany. The editor reserves the right of
selectins which books will be reviewed. Uninvited
hooks n o t chosen for rwieu’ will not be returned.
leading authority on 3 9th-century chemistry, calls the “quiet revolution”. This
change emerged during the 1850s from the
turbulent disputes about theories of chemical types, radicals, and constitutions, which
during the 1860s gave birth to the new
science of structural organic chemistry, the
last major transition leading to modern
chemistry. Kolbe employed all his talents
and characteristics- -his aggressive intellectual debate, political influence, violent
temper, ardent chauvinism, and antiFrench xenophobia-to maintain his position in the German academic world. A
profound conservative, he vigorously attacked structural formulas and structural
chemistry; he considered himself as bearing the mantle of the great classical
chemists, especially Berzelius, whose copula theory he retained as the last major element of dualism left in organic chemistry.
Although Rocke’s volume (the 11th in
the California History qf Science series) is
the first book-length biography of Kolbe
in any language, it is much more. The author has used Kolbe’s life and career to
highlight and chronicle an important period of chemistry in more depth than has
hitherto been attempted: “By looking at
the field through Kolbe’s eyes we see the
transformations of this period from the
perspective of a man who was at once both
an insider and a n outsider” (p. 5 ) . Rocke
has made extensive use of hitherto unexploited documents from many archives.
German and otherwise, as well as literally
hundreds of blunt revealing letters from
K o b e and other chemists, to endow his
account of the “quiet revolution” with a
thrilling immediacy. He also details the
social, educational, institutional, and cultural milieu in the various German states
in which Kolbe worked, as well as in
France and Great Britain (Kolbe spent the
period 1845-1847 in London as Lyon
Playfair’s assistant and was a close friend
of Edward Frankland and other English
chemists).
Rocke’s multifaceted and interpretative
account includes biographies of figures
pertinent to his story, such as von Baeyer,
Berzelius, Bunsen (Kolbe’s Doktorvater),
Dumas, Erlenmeyer, Frankland, Gerhardt, von Hofmann, Kekule, Laurent,
Liebig, Volhard, Williamson, Wohler,
and Wurtz. He explores the influence of
these and other personalities, patterns of
state support, laboratory organization,
teaching methods, and academic publishing (Kolbe was associated with the publishers Eduard and Heinrich Vieweg many
years). Eighteen photographs, numerous
formulas, equations, tables, notes (83 pp.),
a glossary of German and chemical terms
(9 pp.), a bibliography (1 1 pp.), and an
index (17pp.. 2cols. per page) are also
provided. This important contextualized
study will not only be useful to historians
of chemistry and of 19th-century German
science as well as to chemists, but should
also be of interest to the history of science
community in general. because of its novel
aspects and historiographic richness.
George B. Kaufjtnuri
California State University
Fresno. CA (USA)
Applied Laser Spectroscopy. Techniques, Instrumentation, and Applications. Edited by D.L. Andrews. VCH
Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim/VCH
Publishers, New York, 1992. IX,
471 pp., hardcover DM 198.00.ISBN 3- 527-28027-311-56081-023-8
Spectroscopy in the visible, ultraviolet,
and infrared spectral regions is nowadays
performed, almost as a matter of course,
using lasers, and there are probably more
lasers than monochromators and spectrographs in the laboratories. The well-known
properties of lasers as light sources, such
as spatial resolution limited only by diffraction, narrow spectral bandwidth, and
short pulse duration with high peak intensity, have in the last ten years become
more easily and cheaply available. Rapid
strides have also been made in the development of detectors (whether for charged
particles or for photons). Lastly, the high
electric field strengths generated by lasers
allow the study of nonlinear processes in
the samples under investigation. The combination of a wide variety of laser light
sources, of materials investigated, and of
light-induced processes, together with appropriate detection methods, has led to
a plethora of spectroscopic techniques
05 70-0#33;94: I f I 1 -1 1Y5 $ 10.00
+ .25’0
1195
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