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Book Review Unraveling DNA. By M. D. Frank-Kamenetskii

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Classics in Chemistry
Chemistry Imagined. Reflections on
Science. By R. Hoflmann and K
Torrence. Smithsonian Institute
Press, Washington, 1993. 168 pp.,
hardcover $23.9S.-ISBN 1-506982 14-4
Among the treasures kept in the Herzog
August Librdry in Wolfenbuttel are a
number of “MdierBRIAN KAY€
bucher” (books of the
painters). edch of
which is a two-author
work in which dn important drtist of the
day has ihstrdted a
literary text of his
own choosing
hagined is d ”Malerbuch” of chemistry,
in which the text is by Roald Hoffmann
dnd the illustrdtions are by Vivian Torrence, n well-known American artist For
Hoffmann this book is a continuation of
his efforts. previously in the form of lectures. essays, dnd television programs, to
help laypeople to understand those aspects of the sciences, and especially of
chemistry. that relate to the arts and humanities
Just ds the words “imagined” and “reflections” in the title have various meanings, so also does the book itself It is not
a book to be read straight through, but
rather one to enjoy looking at, to read a
little and pause, to dream and speculateabout the elements as understood by the
ancient Greeks and Chinese, o r the Periodic Table, the Philosophers’ Stone, phlogiston, or the relationship between theory
and practice o r between energy and form
A recurring theme throughout many of
This beetion 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 Book Review Editor, Dr. Ralf
Baumann. Redaktion Angewandte Chemie, Postfach 10 11 61. D-69451 Weinheim. Federal Republic of Germany. The editor reserves the right of
selecting which books will be reviewed. Uninvited
books not chosen for review will not be returned.
Angris. (‘hmi. I n ! . Ed. EnxI. 1994. 33. N o . 12
the chapters is the “fluxional” character
of chemistry, which is the science of change
and instability par excellence. They contain much that is of a very personal nature, for example thoughts based on childhood recollections, and are written in a
style that is perhaps best described as
bright and relaxed. N o knowledge of
chemistry is assumed, although the author
is not immune from lapses into technical
jargon and over-specialization.
O r could that perhaps have been intentional? In the same way as the chemist
experiments with structures of all kinds,
here the author plays with different literary forms--the essay, poetry, text arranged to form shapes (as in the chapter
on the Periodic Table mentioned above),
and even dialogue (in a chapter on “Possibilities and Pragmatism” that is surprisingly reminiscent of the radio dialogues of
Arno Schmidt).
The pictures by Vivian Torrence are
works of art in their own right, and yet at
the same time serve to illustrate the text.
The use of collage in these is very appropriate for a text dealing with such a creative science as chemistry. Most of them
are packed with detail and invite one to
make journeys of discovery, to smile at
the Greek and Roman wrestlers in a chapter on force constants, o r to follow the
flows of liquids in the chapter on reaction
steps and processes, which gives the reader a sort of “monochrome” introduction
to the language of chemistry in the form of
descriptions of experiments (although this
will certainly be incomprehensible to lay
readers). A very readable epilogue by Lea
Rosson Delong serves to extend and add
depth to one’s own thoughts about the
pictures. (In the copy sent to me for reviewing I marked the sentences that struck me
as especially pertinent comments on the
pictures, only to find at the end that I had
highlighted practically everything.)
In his preface Carl Sagan writes that we
need more books of this kind. That is probably true. Nevertheless, I have a sneaking
feeling that books such as this which aim
(once more) to reach a certain section of
the reading public are no longer noticed
by the people for whom they are intended.
How many readers will find this book?
Could it be as many as those who see the
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“Malerbiicher” mentioned above? Probably far fewer. On one side ‘‘refinement,
decline, sorrow” (G. Benn), on the other,
much more numerous side, more and
more pictures in more and more “channels” with ever less of the text which slows
down the tempo. And between the two
sides hardly any communication.
Henning Hopj’
Institut fur Organische Chemie
der Technischen UniversitHt
Braunschweig (FRG)
Unraveling DNA. By M . D. FrankKamenetskii. VCH Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim/VCH Publishers,
New York, 1993. 205 pp., hardcover
DM 49.00, $25.9S.-ISBN
The publication of a new English version of the Russian book “Samaya
glavnaya molekula”, which originally appeared in Moscow in the early 1980s, may
seem surprising in view of the already
enormous volume of literature on DNA
throughout the world. However, Unraveling DNA is quite different from other
books on the subject.
Only once before have I come across a
book such as this about the informationcarrying molecule that determines our
lives. That was when I read. in the
course of one evening and one night, Watson’s book The Double Helix. FrankKamenetskii’s Unraveling D NA too is unmistakably a very personal account of the
history of DNA and its importance in our
life processes, even though it comes 40
years after those events. It deals with the
most fruitful period that has ever occurred in the interdisciplinary collaboration between physics. chemistry, and biology, describing the events in a way that is
wide-ranging and at the same time profound, ensuring that the reader becomes
captivated right from the first sentences of
the preface and is held throughout by the
fascination of the subject. The style is
colorful and gripping, yet with consummate ease the author effectively brings together insights at very different levels, so
that the descriptive quality of everyday
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language is constantly balanced by scientific precision. resulting in a vividness and
clarity that is rarely found. By using a
wealth of appropriate analogies even the
most difficult process concepts are clearly
explained, and the direct and forceful presentation broadens and liberates the reader’s outlook. The result is a work into
which the author and the translator have
each put their whole soul.
As one expects, the book covers nearly
all the ground that is nowadays common
knowledge in the scientific world : the tedious “march across the plains” that began with Miescher and Altmann and continued through several decades; the tortuous pathways that were followed and eventually led, by an unexpected route, to the
summit; the conquest of the summit by
the four researchers whose discovery of
the “sacred structure” and its inherent dynamics released a veritable flood of creativity: the “dogmas” concerning the flow
of information between DNA, RNA, and
proteins, and the partial revision of these
that was so significant; the great efforts to
discover the key to life in the D N A code;
the role of the structures and long-range
order of D N A molecules in the developing
understanding of the static and dynamic
behavior of genes, and the effects of natural and artificial stimuli in the complex
information processing of DNA. RNA.
and proteins; the new insights into evolution and the emergence of contradictions
with genetics, a subject then experiencing
an unprecedented surge of interest; the
challenges and temptations of the technology of genetic engineering that began to
emerge within the wider field of biotechnology-a technology that could be seen
either as offering the realization of mankind’s ancient dream of achieving a godlike omnipotence, o r as perhaps the ultimate folly, already previously discovered
by Oppenheimer in the case of physics, of
“original sin”, here in its truest sense; ultrastable cybernetic systems and the
threatening disruption of their rhythms;
D N A in the conflict between selfinon-self
recognition and discrimination, between
new plagues on humanity and still unfulfilled needs, between the examples of the
past and visions of the future.
So much of this we already know-and
yet the “unwinding” and “decoding” D N A
that Frank-Kamenetskii describes here
contains much that is different. In what
formerly seemed to be mainly an irregular
mosaic of observations, previously unnoticed relationships are now becoming apparent. Whereas formerly the observer
was content to look at mountains of statistical and ephemeral data, now he delights
in the many new insights that are becoming
clear for the first time in an exciting and
action-packed film. In order to come closer
to a scientific understanding of the processes of life, our approaches to the subject
should preferably take account of the
complexity involved. On the other hand,
science is the science of human beings. Its
endeavors in the many different skills are
dependent on people, and thus it is subject
to development and decay. Frank-Kamenetskii’s praiseworthy attempt at a novel
way of informing and inspiring the reader
is based on a recognition of this dependence. It is an endeavor in which one must
wish the author and publishers all success;
it is also to be hoped that all kinds of
readers and many areas of science will
benefit from authors (and translators!)
following this example.
“I am the original fragrance of the earth/
I am the life of all that lives11 am the original seed of all existences/All states of being are manifested by my energy/I am
unborn and my transcendental form never
deteriorates/Although I appear in so many
configurations/You know not my true
transcendental form”-~-Krishna’s description of himself from the Bhagavad-gita, as
applied by Ramaswamy H. Sarma to represent the informational component of
life, would perhaps form a suitable epilogue to this book by Maxim D. FrankKamenetskii on the molecule of life and
its “unraveling”, again reflecting the
preface’s theme of the wonder of life, the
“transfiguration of its molecule”.
Siegfir ied Hqffmunn
Institut fur Biochemie
der Universitiit Halle-Wittenberg (FRG)
Electrode Kinetics for Chemists,
Chemical Engineers, and Material
Scientists. By E. Gileadi. VCH
Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim/VCH
Publishers, New York, 1993. 597 pp.,
hardcover DM 189.00.--ISBN 3-52789561-211-56081-561-2
After a period of twenty years during
which there was a shortage of good textbooks on electrochemistry, now in rapid
succession several books have appeared
dealing with general and special aspects of
electrochemistry, and differing in their
level of treatment and intended readership. This book by Gileadi, his second on
this subject, is intended as an introduction
to electrochemical kinetics, and sets out to
familiarize students, and also scientists
from related disiplines, with the classical
methods of this field. Readers are assumed to have only a basic grounding in
thermodynamics and chemical kinetics.
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and the amount of mathematics is kept to
a minimum.
The book is in two parts. The first part
contains, according to the author, the
minimum basic knowledge that the reader
needs to understand electrode processes.
The second, more advanced, part treats
some special topics in greater depth.
Part 1 begins with two introductory chapters in which some basic concepts of electrochemical kinetics are explained from a
phenomenological standpoint: currentvoltage curves, material transport, and
the capacitance of the double layer. The
various potentials that can apply to a
phase are then defined: the electrochemical and chemical potentials, internal and
external potentials, and the conventional
hydrogen scale. Next there are chapters
on measurement principles and cell design, the relationship between chemical
and electrochemical kinetics, and some
simple measurement procedures. The core
of this first part consists of the chapters on
the kinetics of electrode processes, which
deal with all the usual topics, such as overvoltage, the Butler-Volmer equation, the
transfer coefficient, and simple and more
complex reactions, and discuss these in relation to hydrogen and oxygen evolution.
The author takes considerable time in discussing these aspects, describes practical
examples, raises various relevant questions and answers them, and presents all
this material clearly and skillfully. Nevertheless, one may not always agree with his
views-for example, the answer to the
question of whether the permeation factor
depends on the potential must be yes, at
least for simple electron transfer processes. Part 1 ends by discussing simple theories of the double layer and of electrocapillarity.
The more advanced part begins with a
chapter on intermediates formed in electrode reactions including, interestingly, a
discussion of underpotential deposition
and the adsorption of halides. The latter
topic is also included under the heading
“underpotential deposition”, although
to thus broaden the meaning of this clumsy expression could well lead to confusion
here. Next come two chapters on the electrosorption of neutral molecules; the
prominence given here to the now obsolete “Gileadi combined adsorption isotherm” can be excused as a touch of vanity on the part of the author. Most of the
space is then devoted to measurement
techniques: current and voltage transients,
cyclic voltammetry, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, and microelectrodes. Here again it is pleasing to find that
the treatment of these topics is lucid and
practically-orientated. The only unsatisfac-
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An,qew. C‘hem. I n t . Ed. Engl. 1994, 33, N o . 12
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