Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries that Made Modern Chemistry

Hardcover | September 12, 2008

byPatrick Coffey

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Cathedrals of Science describes the way modern chemistry was actually built-by scientists who were sometimes all too human. Chemists-Svante Arrhenius, Walther Nernst, Gilbert Lewis, Irving Langmuir, Fritz Haber, Linus Pauling, Glenn Seaborg, Harold Urey, and others-appear in differentcombinations in its chapters, struggling to understand what was driving chemical processes, but not doing so selflessly. They were all concerned with what is called "priority"-the credit for being the first to make a discovery, and all but Lewis eventually won the Nobel prize. They sometimes actedspitefully: Arrhenius managed to block Nernst's Nobel prize for 15 years, and Nernst may have blocked Lewis's completely. World War I was the first war in which scientists were forced to make moral choices about their work. Fritz Haber's synthesis of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen allowed the Germans to prolong the war for four years. And Haber became known as the "father of chemical warfare," introducingchlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas to the battlefield. Glenn Seaborg and Harold Urey were both leaders in World War II's Manhattan Project. Seaborg later built his career on his successes there, while Urey nearly had a nervous breakdown and dedicated himself to control of nuclear weapons. Paulingtoo became politically active and won the 1963 Nobel peace prize for his work to stop atmospheric nuclear testing. A different sort of ethical issue arose when Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 and immediately fired all government employees, including the university professors. Haber went into exile and died soon thereafter. Some non-Jewish scientists were principled, like Nernst, who refused to haveanything to do with the Nazis. Some supported the Nazis, and some were happy to take advantage of the professorships opened up by the expulsion of the Jews.

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Cathedrals of Science describes the way modern chemistry was actually built-by scientists who were sometimes all too human. Chemists-Svante Arrhenius, Walther Nernst, Gilbert Lewis, Irving Langmuir, Fritz Haber, Linus Pauling, Glenn Seaborg, Harold Urey, and others-appear in differentcombinations in its chapters, struggling to underst...

Coffey spent most of his career in the design of instruments for chemical research and was a co-founder of a number of scientific instrument companies. In 2003, he began research into the history of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:416 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 0.98 inPublished:September 12, 2008Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195321340

ISBN - 13:9780195321340

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Table of Contents

Prologue1. The Ionists- Arrhenius and Nernst2. Physical Chemistry in America- Lewis and Langmuir3. The Third Law and Nitrogen-Haber and Nernst4. Chemists at War-Haber, Nernst, Langmuir, and Lewis5. The Lewis-Langmuir Theoru-Lewis, Langmuir, and Harkins6. Science and the Nazis-Nernst and Haber7. Nobel prizes-Lweis and Langmuir8. Heavy Water, Acids and Bases, Plutonium-Lewis, Urey, and Seaborg9. The Secret of Life-Pauling, Wrinch, and Langmuir10. Pathological Science-Langmuir11. Lewis's Last DaysEpilogueEndnotesSources, Acknowledgements, and Selected Bibliography

Editorial Reviews

"Coffey has the proverbial good eye for anecdotes, which enlivens what could have been a dreary list of scholarly accusations."--Chemical and Engineering News "The center of Patrick Coffey's remarkable story is the ultimate difficult genius, an American original, G. N. Lewis. Around him, in peace and war, move the men and women who have shaped our understanding of molecules and how they react. And they are hardly at peace with each other."--Roald Hoffman, chemist, writer, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "This superbly crafted book traces the intertwined careers of scientific Titans whose work, despite human failings, created major parts of the conceptual edifice of modern physical science. It is a grand saga, as illuminating for our era as the Canterbury Tales are for the age that erected great masonry cathedrals."--Dudley Herschbach, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry Patrick Coffey's wide-ranging account colorfully demonstrates, the pioneers of modern chemistry nurtured not just intellectual innovations but a collection of squabbles and grudges that influenced American science for a generation or more. Coffey excels at showing how chemistry developed both despite and because of personal rivalries in this complex and engaging tale."-- David Lindley, author of Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science "Coffey has the experienced chemist's command of the science, the story-teller's gift for narrative, and the detective's tenacity in chasing down new evidence. Newcomers and experts alike will discover here a marvelous account of the main axes along which chemistry developed in the twentieth-century and find manynew insights into both the science and the personalities of those who made it. This book is a joy to read."--John Servos, Anson D. Morse Professor of History, Amherst College and author of Physical Chemistry in America "Patrick Coffey has combined science with biography to create a sweeping history of the transformative chemical discoveries of the first half of the 20th century. It is a history alive with brilliance and infused with human frailties. A compelling account of scientific revolution, tragedies, rivalries, and inspiration." --Nancy Greenspan, author of The End of the Certain World: The Life and Science of Max Born "in this engrossing, often somber history, Coffey reminds us not just that science trumped by ideology is a damning proposition, but that even the most complex science starts with the efforts of mere humans." --Publishers Weekly