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Book Review The Same and Not the Same. By R. Hoffmann

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Reflections of a True PhD
The Same and Not the Same. By R.
Hqffkunn. Columbia University
Press, New York, 1995.294 pp., hardcover $34.95.-ISBN 0-231-10138-4
A popular oratorical strategy especially
common in high-brow rhetoric exploits
the "tension field"
created by one poTit
lar extreme acting
usually with the
speaker clambering
up and down like a
preacher (in this
case) on a Jacob's
ladder of subtly
linked dichotomies
and contradictions
in an attempt to make the obvious more
memorable. If the orator is gifted at formulating matters with insight, sensitivity,
and circumspection, with wisdom and
charm. this approach can also provide a
source of reflective pleasure. And when
has i t been otherwise with Roald Hoffmann? His broad background, his
dazzling style, his enviably engaged combinatorial memory-~-these are characteristics that make him a highly regarded and
avidly sought spokesperson for all sorts of
occasions related to chemistry, or which
he himself shows to be chemistry-related.
Drawing upon a great many such occasions, and enhancing the effect with a
cleverly tailor-ed set of images, Hoffmann
has here assembled a skein of information
that affords interesting, stimulating, and
affirmative reading from beginning to
end. The resulting collage is somewhat
reminiscent of a series of essays from another chemist : Primo Levi's The Periodic
Tuhk. which Hoffmann frequently cites in
'This section contains hook reviews and a list o f
new hooks received by the editor. Book reviews are
written by invitation from the editor. Suggestions
for books t o he rei,iewed and for book reviewers
are welcome Puhli5hers should send brochures o r
(better) books to Dr. [Ilenora Beckmann, Redaktion Aiigewandte Chemie. Postfach 1011 61.
D-6045 I Wcinheim. Federal Republic of Germ a n > . 'The editor reserves the right of selecting
which books &illbe reviewed. Uninvited books
not chosen for review will not bc returned.
his extensive bibliography. But Levi's
work amounts to a veiled autobiography,
whereas this is instead a wide-ranging and
fervent plea for reflection with respect to
chemistry as a discipline. Understanding
comes only through enlightened participation. Hoffmann therefore elucidates, in
a marvelously uncomplicated way fully
accessible to the layman, the actual problems chemists confront amidst the contradictory technical, emotional, moral, and
political tensions surrounding their work.
Roald Hoffmann always knows where
to find memorable and apt analogies, illustrations, and examples, and many people have contributed enthusiastically to
this particular endeavor. Not least among
these is the publisher, incidentally, who
has produced a deluxe edition the like of
which is seldom seen these days on such
an occasion: glossy paper and sharp printing, clear diagrams. and faithful color reproductions, presented in a genuine cloth
binding! But this handsome piece certainly should not disappear into the bibliophile's bookcase; it should instead be
"consumed", and then shared with other
chemists. The effort will be richly rewarded!
The content of the book is easily s u m
marized, but characterizing it is more difficult: call it chemistry transformed by a
tincture of wisdom into philosophy. Hoffmann's goal is to convey his thoughts directly to an engaged circle of readers,
thoughts as they have occurred to him in
the course of his life as a theoretical
chemist pursuing research, as a graduate
adviser, and as a conscientious citizen.
Laymen should have no trouble following
him, because the reader will quickly become captivated, and there is no let-up.
Insightful chemists will affirm the validity
of the way Hoffmann analyzes chemistry's methodology, and they will be u-plifted by the discovery that their intellectually guided skills are grounded not only in
the dissection and unfolding of the multifaceted, but above all in the art of synthesis: joining together, mediating, creating,
and recreating. The self-critical scientific
reader will also become more acutely conscious of how arrogant it is in a dispute
involving concerned environmentalists to
demand that a cost/benefit analysis al-
ways be undertaken, believing that the
world must be run on the basis of a specialist's insights-not unlike Plato's proposed dictatorship over a society made up
of minors.
This is one observation among many
that are transmuted here by a chemist.
drawing upon both chemical experience
and political reflection, into a general
principle: that only a combination of
knowledge and engagement will create an
environment in which chemists, too, can
introduce their artistry in a harmonious
way. Chemistry must therefore direct its
educational skills toward those who will
themselves never be chemists; indeed,
chemical illiteracy is a threat not because
it limits our ability to exploit nature, but
rather because it prevents us from understanding the principles according to which
nature operates. It isolates us from nature, which in compensation acquires a
mystical character. That is in turn damaging, because the public becomes incapable
of making decisions based on fact with
respect to scientific issues. And it is precisely the public and only the public that
must make such decisions: not the scientists, who are themselves simply people,
neither priests nor politicians. The one
chemist among a thousand citizens will
continue to learn the necessary skills anyway, but he or she will not be permitted to
practice them if the 999 non-chemists fail
to understand his/her intentions. This is
one of many instances in which awareness
of a critical dichotomy leads to increased
Every chemist is familiar with the polarities of analysis and synthesis, left and
right, effective and ineffective, equivalent
and nonequivalent, natural and unnatural
(as well as a host of others), but here these
have been refined into productive philosophy. Roald Hoffmann shares this gift with
the adepts of old, whose dreams, deeply
embedded within us, are still so very alive:
the ability of some agent, some catalyst to
participate through a keyhole, to ascend
immaculately out of a melee with the power to turn raw materials into treasure. Are
these not still the essential driving forces?
Hoffmann makes us acutely conscious of
the role of catalysis in the context of the
three-way catalyst and of enzymes, but in
such a way that we are not deprived of the
magic of it all. The magic persists, even if
each step along the way can be reconstructed conceptually.
The tragic dichotomy in the deeds and
character of the chemist himself is illustrated by a moving sketch of the towering
personality of Fritz Haber: rationalist
and Don Quixote, world citizen and patriot in both the narrower and the wider
sense, career man and visionary, nourisher and destroyer. Haber’s fruitful and
beneficial ammonia synthesis serves as an
elegant starting point for exploring a
chemist’s activities and thoughts, as well
as the leap of genius from paradigmatic
routine into the unimagined. Many windows are opened onto the mental universe
of the scientist, onto the forces of the mind
that guide his or her visions and tools,
with a particular chemist serving as an example, but leading to insights that are
quite generally valid. We sense the polarities that keep the chemist’s world in motion : substances and reactions, discovering and protecting, things and personalities, understanding and feeling, curiosity and power, creative ability and
fear, self-control and arrogance, responsibility and exploitation. The crossingpoints of various emotions-perceived
and unperceived--define the state of the
chemist’s soul, as they do with all humans,
in the contest over the possible, which the
chemist seeks in that which holds nature
The Janus-faced character of chemistry-its
double-barreled quality, its
blind spots-is not a new theme, but also
not an overly familiar one. Here it becomes a theme for the confessional, at the
same time witty and amusing, partly out
of personal experience. but with no trace
of hubris or hysteria. The chemist as the
dull mean-or as the sharp focal pointbetween a physics obsessed with mathematization and a chaotic biology. Well
thought out are the insights so modestly
presented on the method of reductionism;
beautiful as well are the humility and
sense of indebtedness with respect to the
humanities which indicate how multidimensional the nexuses are. And the observation that we are tied to linearizing patterns of speech, but at the same time in a
desperate search for a “method” of simplification, of enumeration, measurement, and standardization. How easy it
all is for chemists, with their conditioned
symbolism and the strict conventions of
their notation!
Roald Hoffmann’s book contains an
unimagined treasure trove of thoughts,
Aeschylus to Zeus, from alchemy to the
zodiac, from acetylcholine to xenon
tetrafluoride, most of it related to Hoffmann’s own scientific efforts or engagements. In effect, it represents the journey
of a man out of oppression into freedom,
and at the same time his committed gratitude to fate. If the book were to be the
subject of an excellent translation it could
exert its effect well beyond the bounds of
chemistry, and it warrants that opportunity-though the effort might also prove a
disappointment, since so much is a function of the marvelous language in which
the work is cast, a language the author
himself was forced to learn, albeit at an
early age.
Lothur Juenicke
Institut fur Biochemie
der Universitat Koln (Germany)
Resorcinol. Its Uses and Derivatives.
(Series: Topics in Applied Chemistry.) By H. Dressier. Plenum,
New York, 1994. 500 pp., hardcover
$ 115.00.--ISBN 0-306-44850-5
The author of this book is obviously a
(former) industrial chemist. This becomes
apparent in each chapter, on each page,
almost even in each sentence, both in its
positive and negative aspects.
The introductory chapter is essentially
a list of the book’s contents, then in only
the first seven pages of the second chapter
(three of which are filled by full-page
reproductions of the IR, ‘H NMR-at
60 MHz!--and 13C NMR spectra of resorcinol) we already find four clear references to the author’s firm, including the
statement that “this plant has had a good
record as to the safety and health of its
employees for many years”. However, as
regards the subject of this chapter, entitled
“The Properties and Chemistry of Resorcinol”, the reader is given insufficient information. For example, Section 2.6 on
“Methods of Analysis” consists of just
five sentences.
The following ten chapters deal with industrial and commercial aspects of resorcinol in all conceivable variants. The best
way to do justice to the book is to list their
titles as follows: 3 . “Processes for Making
Resorcinol”, 4. “The Use of Resorcinol in
Rubber Compositions”, 5. “Resorcinol/
Formaldehyde Resins-Adhesives
Wood and Other Nonrubber Applications”, 6. “m-Aminophenol”, 7. “Agricultural Chemicals, Including Veterinary
Products”, 8. “Pharmaceuticals, Overthe-Counter Medications, and Diagnostic
Aids”, 9. “The Uses of Resorcinol/
Derivatives in Polymers”, 10. “Dyes, Flu-
mhH, 0-6945/ Weinheim. I996
orescent Chemicals, Optical Bleaches,
Laser Dyes, and Imaging/Recording
Technologies”, 1 1. “Additives of Many
Types”, and 12. “Other Uses for Resorcinol”.
In each chapter the author strings together innumerable bits of information,
mostly at a rather superficial level (examples of the style: “A large number of ...
were prepared, and shown to be...”; “A
preparation of ... was patented ...”; “A
similar patent covered the use of...”). The
few cross-references given, although welcome in principle, seem to have been chosen more or less at random. There is hardly any evidence of the mass of information
having been critically evaluated or processed in any way, except perhaps in the
flow diagrams describing the large-scale
manufacture of the basic chemicals resorcinol and m-aminophenol (Chapters 3
and 7 ) . In Chapters 3-12 about 90% of
the literature references given are patents.
Despite the fact that data on tonnages
produced and their value are scattered
throughout the text, the author evidently
felt it necessary to include a separate
chapter on these (13. “Selected Business
This is followed by a further two chapters (14. “Occurrence in Nature-A Domain of Academic Researchers”, 15.
“Other Examples of Mostly Academic
Work with Resorcinol”) which contain
about 400 literature references (not
patents), compared with the book’s total
of slightly over 1800. With regard to these
two rather unbalanced chapters, the author comments in the introduction: “The
placement ... near the end of the book is
not intended as an indication of the lesser
importance of these topics, but rather as
an intent to finish with a note of enthusiasm, to show the burst of ideas and the
connection to the whole fabric.” Here, as
in the book as a whole, one would like to
believe in the author’s good intentions.
At first glance the book appears nicely
produced..It contains many structural formulas which aid the reader’s understanding, although the choice of these sometimes seems strange. Whereas Chapter 5
contains no chemical formulas at all,
those of m-fluorophenol and equally
simple compounds included elsewhere
could surety have been omitted. Most of
the formulas are printed in a clear and
uniform style, although sometimes they
are badly reproduced (e.g., 15-4 and 15-5)
and others have been copied without
much thought (e.g., 11-44, a [l.l]metacyclophane!). Similar criticisms apply to
the black-and-white photographs (some
of which are of poor quality, e.g. those
showing a lichen-covered rock and a
$ 1 5 . 0 0 i .25/0
A n g m . Chem. In!. Ed. Engl. 1996. 35, No. 9
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