The Chemical Educator, Vol. 11, No.3, Media Reviews, © 2006 The Chemical Educator
Auf der Suche nach dem Stein der Weisen: Die Geschichte der Alchemie. Hans-Werner Schütt. Verlag C. H. Beck oHG: Wilhelmstraße 9, 80801 Munich, Germany, 2000. http://rsw.beck.de/rsw/default.asp. Telephone: (089) 38 18 93 15; Fax: (089) 38 18 93 98; Postal Address: Postfach 40 03 40, 80703 München, Deutschland. Figures, 602 pp. 17.7 ´ 24.5 cm.; hardcover. € 35.02; DM 68.50; ISBN 3-406-46638-9.
Since 1979, chemist and historian of science Hans-Werner Schütt (born in Berlin in 1937) has been Professor of the History of the Exact Sciences and Technology at the Technische Universität Berlin. After receiving his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the Christian-Albrecht-Universität Kiel in 1966, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institut Pasteur in Paris and worked in industry for Unilever. In 1977 he became Assistant Professor of the History of Science at the Universität Hamburg. On a Volkswagen Foundation grant he carried out research at the University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater) and the University of California, Berkley. In 1994 he was a Guest Professor at the Universidad da Costa Rica. He has served as a member of the Supervisory Board of the Deutsches Museum, a Councillor of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and President of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Wissenchaftsgeschichte. His primary fields of interest are the history of alchemy, the history of chemistry and mineralogy during the 19th century, and renaissance physics, and his biography of Eilhard Mitscherlich received critical acclaim .
Alchemy was—and perhaps still is—one of the great riddles of cultural and scientific history. Schütt presents a detailed yet sweeping panoramic history of alchemy and its multifaceted aspects, which includes considerations of philosophy and psychology as well as anecdotes, sources, and historical researches of frequently misunderstood alchemical experiments in the context of man, nature, and cosmos. His lengthy tome offers a profound and intelligible insight into the thought and activities of the practitioners of the “Great Art.”
Although many books on specific aspects of alchemy have appeared, general histories of this venerable pseudoscience from antiquity to modern times have been few and somewhat dated. When I taught the subject under the auspices of the CSUF Experimental College during the 1970s, I used as texts the classic works of E. J. Holmyard, John Maxson Stillman, John Read, and Titus Burckhardt [2–5]. Thus Schütt’s excellent history is most welcome.
The book’s relatively short 96 chapters are divided into four chronologically arranged sections.
I. “Im Schatten der Pyramiden” (In the Shadow of the Pyramids), 27 chapters (146 pp), chronicles alchemy from its earliest origins in the temple craftsmen of Alexandrian Egypt to the Byzantine period. In his consideration of the Hellenistic ideas based on Greek philosophy and Aristotle, the mystery cults, and the Gnostics, Schütt deals with early alchemical figures, such as Democritos, Zosimos, Synesios, Olympiodoros, Stephanos, Maria the Jewess, Agathodaimon, and lesser known workers. He also notes the influence of the Egyptian god Ptah and Greek god Hermes on what has been called the Hermetic Art. He also discusses the Leyden X and Stockholm papyri as well as shamanism.
II. “In fremden Welten” (In Foreign Worlds), 22 chapters (97 pp, the shortest section), deals with the Arabic period and treats of the work done in Constantinople, Damascus, Baghdad, Mecca, and even considers Chinese alchemy. He discusses Khalid, Gabir ibn Hayyan, Ar-Razi, and others as well as the sulfur-mercury theory and the origin of the Arabic definite article “Al” in the word alchemy.
III. “In Klöstern und andernorts” (In Monasteries and Other Places), 27 chapters (162 pp, the longest section), chronicles the development of alchemy in Europe from the 11th to 17th centuries. In his narrative Schütt profiles Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Arnold of Villanova, Theophilus, pseudo-Geber, Libavius, Roger Bacon, Nicolas Flamel, Ramon Lully, inter alia, and he deals with topics such as symbols and art in alchemy and the Philosophers’ Stone of the book’s title.
IV. “In den neuen Welt Europas” (In the New World of Europe), 20 chapters (131 pp), Schütt deals with more recent times and considers the Cabbala, iatrochemistry, Paracelsus, the Rosicrucians, van Helmont, Tycho Brahe, Newton, Goethe, fraudulent alchemists, and the Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung’s interpretation of alchemy.
In a one-page “Notwendiges Nachwort” (Necessary Epilogue) Schütt summarizes his book and returns to his original question posed in his first chapter (p 11), “What is alchemy,” which has no simple answer. Since he wanted his book to appeal to a general readership as well as to one of scientists and historians, rather than placing references and notes at the bottoms of the pages of the text, he includes them in a separate 33-page section, “Anmerkungen.” A single page of “Abkürzungen” lists abbreviations of authors cited in the text, and a “Literaturverzeichnis” (3½ pp) lists books, articles, and dissertations with references as recent as 1997. Because the entire list of references used in the writing of the book is 50 pages long, Schütt has posted it on the Internet . The book concludes with a “Namenregister” (Name Index) (7 pp) and “Sachregister” (Subject Index) (61/3 pp).
Schütt favors long, complicated sentences that are complex even for German. His paragraphs are also long, sometimes more than an entire page, so a reader appreciates the 16 illustrations that break up the long passages of print. As one who has tried to reproduce alchemical experiments using modern reagents [7, 8], I was particularly intrigued by the detailed description of his attempts on March 25 and 26, 1997, together with Claus Priesner, coeditor of a lexicon of alchemy published, like the book under review, by C. H. Beck , to prepare “Tetrasoma,” an alloy of iron, tin, copper, and lead (pp 495–497).
Schütt’s book, which is a treasure-trove of fascinating and useful information, laced at spots with wry humor, will be of interest to scholars as well as persons unfamiliar with alchemy and chemistry and, if translated, should be valuable as a textbook for students who do not read German. Because his biography of Mitscherlich  was translated into English five years after its appearance in German, I wrote him that he might be able to arrange for an English translation . Let us hope that we do not have to wait too long.
1. Schütt, H.-W. Eilhard Mitscherlich. Baumeister am Fundament der Chemie; Deutsches Museum/R. Oldenbourg Verlag: Munich, 1992; translated into English by E. William Russey as Eilhard Mitscherlich: Prince of Prussian Chemistry; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC; Chemical Heritage Foundation: Philadelphia, 1997. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. Engl. 1998, 37, 1154–1155. See also Kauffman, G. B.; Bernal, I.; Schütt, H.-W. Overlooked Opportunities in Stereochemistry. Part IV. Negative Serendipity: Eilhard Mitscherlich's Near Discovery of Conglomerate Crystallization: On the Sesquicentennial of Pasteur's Resolution of Racemic Acid. Enantiomer 1999, 4, 33–45.
2. Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy; Penguin Books: Baltimore, MD, 1957.
3. Stillman, J. M. The Story of Alchemy and Early Chemistry; Dover Publications: New York, NY, 1960.
4. Read, J. Prelude to Chemistry: An Outline of Alchemy, Its Literature and Relationships; MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, 1966.
5. Burckhardt, T.; Stoddart, W., transl. Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul; Penguin Books: Baltimore, MD, 1971.
6. http://www.tu-berlin.de/fb1/alchemie (accessed July 2006). This website is divided into a bibliography, publications (by Schütt), illustrations (six in color), and photos (five in color).
7. Schwartz, A. T.; Kauffman, G. B. Experiments in Alchemy, Part I: Ancient Arts. J. Chem. Educ. 1976, 53, 136–138; Experiments in Alchemy, Part II: Medieval Discoveries and 'Transmutations'. J. Chem. Educ. 1976, 53, 235–239.
8. Kauffman, G. B. Strindbergs kemiska spekulationer poesi snarare än vetenskap (Strindberg's chemical speculations [are] poetry rather than science), Kem. Tidskr. October, 1985, 97 (11), 51–55, 57 (in Swedish); August Strindberg, Goldmaker. Gold Bull. September,1988, 21 (2), 69–75.
9. Priesner, C.; Figala, K. Alchemie: Lexikon einer hermetischen Wissenschaft; C. H. Beck: Munich, Germany, 1998.
10. Kauffman, G. B., email to H.-W. Schütt, November 29, 2000.
George B. Kauffman
California State University, Fresno, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maths for Chemistry, 4th edition. By Paul Monk. Oxford University Press, 2006. xiii + 310 pages, paperback, ISBN-0199277419/97880199277414.
Once upon a time, many years ago, all aspiring UK physical science undergraduates took chemistry, maths, and physics (CMP) for A-level. There was no question of any physical science student entering University without maths A-level.
The first step down the slippery slope was the growth in popularity of the biological sciences, together with the major rebranding of biochemistry post Watson and Crick. Due to the rigidity of the UK A-level system, this meant that biology tended to displace one of CMP for aspiring students. Second, we have seen a gradual dumbing down of the entire UK educational system, from GCSE to degrees. Third, we have witnessed the apparent liberalization of post-GCSE study, dominated by a free market, where students can choose the most nonsensical combinations of Mickey-Mouse A-levels before applying to equally worthless degree courses.
And I must add the fourth nonsense that 50% of all young men, women, dogs, cats and budgerigars in the UK should have a degree. As W S Gilbert’s Grand Inquisitor remarks
‘…now that’s as plain as plain can be
to this conclusion we agree
when everybody’s somebody
then no-one’s anybody’
A consequence is that “hard” subjects such as chemistry and physics have fallen from popularity, and so departments of physical science are dropping like flies.
It is now a common experience that beginning university chemistry students can’t rearrange
or work out what volumes of 1 mol dm–3 HCl and water to mix in order to get 100 cm3 of 0.1 mol dm–3 HCl. The problem isn’t unique to chemistry, for my colleagues in health science at a well-known university in the English Midlands have coined the medical disorders
· Maths anxiety and phobia
to describe the phenomenon.
There are several ways forward. One is to insist that all university physical science entrants should have a decent grade in AS/A2 maths, the examinations taken respectively at the end of penultimate and final year at high school in the U.K. Naturally, that would close a lot of chemistry departments, but it is written that many (not necessarily the same ones) will close after the next research assessment exercise.
The second alternative is to shut your eyes and tell the students that
in lecture 1 of the first-year thermodynamics course, semester 1, week 1. That keeps the admissions tutor busy for a while, dealing with irate parents and requests for a change of course. This is reminiscent of Stalin’s WW2 tactic of sending his troops into battle without weapons on the grounds that there would be plenty of dead Russian soldiers (and so rifles and bullets) once they reached the front. Unfortunately we don’t have Stalin’s reserves of budding physical scientists.
The third is to try and do all the remedial teaching ourselves. No point asking the Maths Department; they only understand infinite series and existence theorems. The x in eq 1 is always a number, never a physical quantity.
Paul Monk’s book is one of several recent ones to follow the third path. With all this in mind, the chapter headings are
1 The display of numbers
2–6 Algebra I through Algebra V
7–9 Graphs I through III
10–12 Powers I through III
together with lots of self-test questions and their answers, etc.
I’m pleased to say that quantity calculus is done correctly, and any student who masters the material in Paul’s text will get a good start for elementary chemistry lectures (assuming they study this material before exposure to eq 2).
But the title includes the word “Maths,” so will they know any at the end of the course? I note that “axiom” “infinite series” and “theorem” are conspicuous by their absence from the index. I have to nail my colors to the mast and say that I am actually a believer in the first path. I did however teach such a “Maths” course for many years at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) Chemistry. My Maths colleagues really took exception to what we were trying to do—and to be honest I had 100% sympathy with their views. For example, students of the present book are encouraged to learn 30 equations; real mathematicians don’t learn equations.
I like Paul’s book, for whilst limited in scope it is nicely written and well thought out. There is a supporting Web site. It is supposed to be a two-semester course, which raises the question of integration (no pun) with the ongoing chemistry material, but that’s just a timetabling issue and could be easily solved. There are obviously a lot of gaps such as elementary vector analysis and ordinary differential equations.
Very few UK universities are going to follow my first path and so Paul’s book can only succeed.
(The opinions expressed here are my own, and are not necessarily those of my employer!).
The University of Manchester email@example.com
Candid Science V: Conversations with Famous Scientists. By Balázs Hargittai and István Hargittai. Imperial College Press: London, England, 2005; distributed by World Scientific Publishing Co.: Singapore; River Edge, NJ; London, England. Illustrations. xvi + 695 pp; 16.5 ´ 24.5 cm.; hardbound. $98.00; £60; ISBN 1-86094-505-8; paperback. $56.00; £34; ISBN 1-86094-506-6 (pbk).
As Contributing Editor of the History feature of The Chemical Intelligencer, Springer-Verlag’s popular but unfortunately short-lived quarterly magazine for the culture of chemistry and related sciences, I have a personal as well as professional interest in István Hargittai’s series of fascinating collections of interviews, vignettes, and quotations of famous scientists.
During his six-year tenure (24 issues, 1995–2000) as Editor-in-Chief of The Chemical Intelligencer, Hargittai, sometimes with his wife Magdolna (“Magdi”), interviewed more than 120 eminent scientists, more than half of whom were Nobel laureates. A number of these interviews did not reach the pages of the magazine, and I hoped that these, along with the many that were published in The Chemical Intelligencer and, beginning with 2001, in Chemical Heritage: Newsmagazine of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, could appear in print in a handier and more permanent form. The first five volumes of this critically acclaimed book series, each containing three dozen interviews, have now appeared [1–4], all of which have been reviewed in The Chemical Educator.
According to 2000 Nobel Physiology or Medicine laureate Arvid Carlsson, one of the interviewees who also wrote the foreword to Candid Science V,
As time goes by we tend to remodel our reminiscences, perhaps to make them more palatable for our self-esteem. People involved in the same event will thus often describe it and their role in it differently. For the historian it must therefore be of utmost value to have access to as many personal accounts as possible of a scientific discovery. In this regard autobiographies and interviews are complementary. An advantage of the interview is that the interviewer can bring aspects into focus that the interviewee might otherwise tend to pass by. In any event it will remain for the historian to scrutinize all relevant documents in order to come as close to the objective “truth” as possible (pp v–vi).
This fifth volume departs from previous volumes in the series in several ways. In view of the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of science, the interviews in this volume are not classified as physics, chemistry, or biomedical sciences but entries from all these sciences and, for the first time, from mathematics are included in a loosely followed sequence from mathematics through physics and chemistry to the biomedical sciences. Astronomy and astrophysics are also featured.
This volume also includes for the first time not only Hargittai interviews but also nine interviews from another project, videotapes from “Pioneers of Science and Technology,” a collection of recordings of some 60 prominent figures produced by the late Clarence E. Larson (1909–1999), former Commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (who is the subject of an interview, pp 316–323, in this volume), and his wife Jane (née Warren). These Larson tapes, clearly identified as such, differ greatly from the Hargittai interviews as well as from each other, and the Hargittais have not attempted to make uniform presentations from them.
Occasionally, the selection of Nobel laureates has been a controversial one. In this volume two recent controversies have been included. Following the award of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Paul C. Lauterbur (interviewed on pp 454–479) and Sir Peter Mansfield “for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging,” full-page advertisements, headlined “The Shameful Wrong That Must Be Righted” , appeared in The Washington Post and the New York Times, claiming that the Nobel Committee was attempting to rewrite history and that Raymond V. Damadian discovered MRI and that Lauterbur and Sir Peter merely refined the technology [6–9]. Although colleagues had warned István not to ask Lauterbur about the imbroglio, he asked the question and received frank answers. He also received answers about the affair from other interviewees in this volume. He tried to interview Damadian but received no reply to his request.
The second controversy involved the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which was awarded to Arvid Carlsson (pp 588–617), Paul Greengard (pp 648–665), and Eric R. Kandel (pp 666–679) “for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system.” In this case the Hargittais interviewed not only the laureates but also Oleh Hornykiewicz (pp 618–647), who did not protest the award, but in an open letter 250 neuroscientists did on his behalf. These four interviews are the last in the volume and are thus ideally placed for purposes of comparison.
Candid Science is a family affair. In this volume István shares authorship with his son Balázs (b. 1970), Assistant Professor of Chemistry at St. Francis University, Loretto, PA, who, along his father, has carried out many of the interviews. Two of the interviews were conducted by István’s wife Magdi (née Vámhidy), and daughter Eszter (b. 1973) took one of the portraits (p 366).
The Hargittais, who have clearly done their homework in preparing for the interviews, seek to uncover the stories behind the most important achievements in twentieth-century science directly from some of its most distinguished participants. The interviewees tell about their backgrounds; families (Many were raised in poor circumstances and belonged to the first generation in their families to attend a university); lives, both personal and professional; childhoods, influences, and career choices; motivations; aspirations; heroes (scientific or otherwise); mentors; influences; selection of co-workers; hardships and triumphs; modus operandi; greatest challenge (“Finding good care for my children.”—Vera C. Rubin, p 260); philosophies; hobbies and nonscientific interests; and, of course, their seminal discoveries.
Usually the Hargittais’ interviews are by-products of their scientific and family travels, and some were squeezed into programs of scientific meetings. For example, in the summer of 1999 when István was invited to serve as a Visiting Professor at the University of Aukland in New Zealand, he and Magdi arranged their itinerary to include a stopover in Bangkok to interview Professor Dr. Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand, President of the Chulabhorn Research Institute and Professor of Chemistry at Mahidol University, probably the only princess who is also a chemist (pp 332–339).
The Hargittais contacted their interviewees in advance, set up a date, recorded the conversation on audiotape, and sent the transcripts for correction and change to the interviewees. They are not investigative reporters but fellow scientists (physical chemists) who never try to deal with topics with which the interviewees seem uncomfortable. They tactfully asked them to ignore questions they do not want to discuss. In return, the interviewees are often candid and frank in their responses to questions that the Hargittais do ask. For example, John H. Conway revealed “Over the breakup of my second marriage I went suicidal and I attempted suicide and I was in the hospital for a week” (p 30), while Gunther S. Stent confessed, “I do feel guilty about the way I treated the women who figure in my memoirs” (p 512), and Sir John E. Sulston admitted, “I’ve noted in myself that I’m most productive when I am in some measure of despair” (p 546).
Therefore the titles of the books in this series are most appropriate, as are their subtitles. Their contents are more like candid, informal conversations rather than formal interviews. In reply to the Hargittais’ serious questions a number of the interviewees answer with humor. According to William H. Pickering, Theodore von Kármán joked,
If you ever wondered why all of these eminent scientists came from Hungary, as a matter of fact, we are all men from Mars and when we decided where to land on Earth where we would not be noticed, we decided that Hungary was the place to start from (p 220).
Harold Agnew did not agree with a reviewer’s statement about Teller:
Edward has a fantastic memory; he even remembers things that never happened (p 306).
Agnew also related,
[Enrico Fermi] had a wonderful sense of humor. The array of counters in their lead shields all had names, taken from the Winnie the Pooh books. They were named Pooh, Pigglet, Heffalump, etc. (p 312).
And of an unnamed colleague, Gunther S. Stent stated,
You can rely on him: he is always there when he needs you. (p 494).
Most of the scientific subjects are discussed either by their originators or most prominent authorities. They include, inter alia, applications; astronomy and radioastronomy; astrophysics; Bardeen Cooper Schrieffer (BCS) theory; Big Bang; big science vs. little science (“I don’t like big science. I like to work myself and I like to work with my hands. I don’t like to work with a big group of people or to use enormously big machines.”—Charles H. Townes, p 131); black holes; cancer; computers (“I never used a computer. I’m too busy writing with pencil and paper.”—H. S. M. Coxeter, p 15); consciousness; cosmology; crystallography; dark matter; design science; disappearance of the dinosaurs; DNA; extraterrestrial intelligence; fluoridation of water; fullerenes; game, group, and number theories; Human Genome Project; Los Alamos and Livermore Laboratories; Mackay icosahedron; Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); lasers; Manhattan Project; masers; metallic conductors and semiconductors; microwave spectroscopy; missile defense; molecular biology; nuclear power and weapons; Parkinson’s disease; Penrose tiling; phage research; polywater; quantum mechanics; quasicrystals; radar; reductionism in science; regular polyhedra; research in the USSR; scientific advising; selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs); sodium and potassium pumps; Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI); stem cell research (“We should be exploring all possible avenues. Success is by no means assured, but to close off such promising directions for the cure of horrible human ailments, in my opinion, is criminal.”—Leon N. Cooper, p 173); symmetry; twistor theory; viruses; and wartime research.
Among related topics, on some of which the interviewees disagree, are found discussions of education; honors (“An honor is worth nothing unless you use it.”—Sir John E. Sulston, p 548); jealousy (“I am not jealous of anybody, but some people are jealous of me and act accordingly.…From my first days in my department, I felt bad vibrations.”—Dan Schechtman, p 83); patents and patenting; politics and politicians (“They come in with good ideas and work hard but the people bribe them and make them crooks.”—Harold Agnew, who was a New Mexico state senator, p 311); reasons for the collapse of the USSR; Zionism; government and public service; gender bias and feminism; Nobel politics; research planning; the Great Depression; teaching; the McCarthy era; religious beliefs and the reconciling of science and religion; history of science; aging; authorship of articles; the scientific establishment; experiment vs. theory; science and nationalism; missed opportunities; the public image of science; science literacy; comparisons between universities and research institutes; the role of imagination and intuition in science; compulsory retirement and its effect on their work; the social responsibility of scientists; work in progress; their legacy; and advice to young people.
The earliest-born scientist is the late Linus Pauling (1901–1994), the internationally acclaimed scientist, educator, humanitarian, and political activist and the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes (chemistry, 1954; peace, 1962) (pp 340–365). The youngest interviewee is Princess Chulabhorn of Thailand (b. 1957) (pp 332–339).
The interviews flow naturally as related conversations often serve to introduce the next one. For example, Alan L. Mackay (pp 56–75), who predicted quasicrystals, and Dan Schechtman (pp 77–93), who discovered quasicrystals, follow John H. Conway (pp 16–35) and Sir Roger Penrose (pp 36–55), reflecting their common interest in the subject; maser-laser pioneer and Nobel laureate Arthur L. Schawlow (pp 138–163) follows his brother-in-law Charles H. Townes (pp 94–137), who received the 1964 Nobel Physics prize “for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle;” 2000 Nobel Chemistry laureate Alan J. Heeger (pp 410–427) follows his fellow laureate Alan G. MacDiarmid (pp 400–409); and, as mentioned above, the entries on Arvid Carlsson, Oleh Hornykiewicz, Paul Greengard, and Eric R. Kandel follow each other.
Versatility is a prominent characteristic among many of the interviewees, a number of whom have switched areas several times in the course of their careers. For example, Luis W. Alvarez admits,
When I went to the University of Chicago, I majored in chemistry because I’d never heard that there was such a profession as a physicist (p 200).
On the contrary, Neta A. Bahcall states, “Many scientists in our generation started in physics and then continued in astronomy” (p 268), while Nelson J. Leonard said, “I felt I would get bored every decade if I continued the same work, digging deeper and deeper. Thus I usually shifted and sometimes used a sabbatical leave for the shifting of research areas” (pp 326–327). Gunther S. Stent stated, “as a nascent Ph.D. I switched from physical chemistry to molecular biology before that discipline even existed” (p 509), and Princess Chulabhorn was a concert pianist before becoming a chemist (p 339).
In most cases the interviewees’ human feelings shine through their words. Nobel laureates describe how the prize affected their lives, research, and careers. According to Leon N. Cooper, “The Nobel Prize opens many possibilities, among them the possibility of making a fool of yourself” (p 172), while Paul Greengard said,
The first few months were pure insanity. Telephone calls, emails, letters, about honorary degrees, about coming to give a lecture, to address this international congress, to give this annual talk at this medical school, and so on. Just saying no is a full-time job (p 663).
Most interviewees are modest and admit the role of luck in their good fortune. According to Alan G. MacDiarmid, “I am a very lucky person, and the harder I work the luckier I seem to be.” (p 409), and in Sir John E. Sulston’s words, “I feel that I’m being raised above my position, but that’s something I’ve always felt throughout my life” (pp 535–536).
Some of the physicists worked on the Manhattan Project, and their beliefs about the decision to use the nuclear bombs against Japan are varied:
We felt we had to do what we did, but there were lingering doubts whether the development of the atomic weapons was the right way to go. I personally think it was, but I can see why many people feel that perhaps there were alternatives that might have succeeded (William A. Fowler, p 239).
No regrets. We did the right thing. I still don’t like what the Japanese did. We killed more people with fire bombs, we killed more people in Tokyo, we would have killed many more without the atomic bombs….I don’t really care about how many they would’ve lost but I do care about how many we would’ve lost (Harold Agnew, p 302).
Several scientists discuss their differences with other scientists and competitors. On the whole, however, most interviewees are well acquainted with each other and are mutually supportive, and their names crop up frequently in each other’s interviews. Of the prize itself, Paul Greengard said, “Most Nobel Prize-winning work is not accepted at first. If it were, it would not be that important a change in thinking in the field” (p 663). Some interviewees offer suggestions as to Nobel-caliber scientists whose candidacy was overlooked, either because of the three-person rule for sharing a prize or for other reasons.
I also learned many surprising or little known facts or ones that I had forgotten: When the idea for a proof of a mathematical problem suddenly hit John H. Conway, he was standing in the middle of a Cambridge, England street, and a large truck ran into him (p 22). There was a lawsuit about the allegedly unauthorized use of the Penrose pattern on toilet paper (p 45). A D.Sc. is not highly regarded and is awarded “by presenting a large pile of papers” and “is something normally done only by chemists” (p 67). J. D. Bernal did not have a doctorate; “It wasn’t necessary or fashionable at that time” (p 67). Alexei A. Abrikosov’s father performed the post-mortem surgery on Lenin and Stalin (p 187). Walter Alvarez, the syndicated medical columnist, is Luis W. Alvarez’s son (p 200). President Harry S Truman’s announcement of the yield of the Hiroshima bomb as 20,000 tons of TNT was only one of the projected yields. It was more like 13,000 tons.—Luis W. Alvarez, p 205, 206). Proving that the Second Pyramid was solid was “the only time that cosmic rays were used for a practical application.”—Luis W. Alvarez (p 214). “Had that star not sent in the comets to wipe out the dinosaurs, we wouldn’t be here. The mammals could not live in an environment where the dinosaurs ran the world.”—Alvarez (p 216). “The most important thing I did was conceiving the idea of what was originally called the Permissive Action Link of weapons, PAL. This is the black box that prevents anybody unauthorized from using a nuclear weapon.”—Harold Agnew (p 307). “I was…a medical doctor and not trained as a scientist.”—Jens Christian Skou, p 441). In his younger years James D. Watson imitated people whom he admired (p 497).
The date and exact locale of each interview is provided along with a biographical sketch. Because subscribers to The Mathematical Intelligencer, The Chemical Intelligencer, Chemical Heritage, and Chemistry International may be potential buyers of Candid Science V, here is an annotated list of its contents (CI, CH, CHI, or MI, previously appeared in the same or modified form in The Chemical Intelligencer, Chemical Heritage, Chemistry International:newsmagazine of the IUPAC, or Mathematical Intelligencer, respectively—12, 3, 2, 2;N, Nobel laureate—19; †, deceased—8; F, female—3; J, Jewish—12; H, Hungarian—1; MH, interviewed by Magdolna Hargittai—2; L, Larson Tapes—9:
1. H. S. M. (Donald) Coxeter (14 pp) MI †
2. John H. Conway (20 pp) MI
3. Sir Roger Penrose (20 pp)
4. Alan L. Mackay (20 pp) CI
5. Dan Schechtman (18 pp) CI J
6. Charles H. Townes (44 pp) N L
7. Arthur L. Schawlow (26 pp) N † L
8. Leon N. Cooper (12 pp) N
9. Alexei A. Abrikosov (22 pp) N J
10. Luis W. Alvarez (20 pp) CI N † L
11. William H. Pickering (10 pp) †
12. William A. Fowler (18 pp) N † L
13. Vera C. Rubin (20 pp) F J MH
14. Neta A. Bahcall (16 pp) F J MH
15. Sir Rudolf E. Peierls (8 pp, the shortest entry) CI J L
16. Emilio G. Segrè (10 pp) CI N J † L
17. Harold Agnew (16 pp) N
18. Clarence E. Larson (8 pp) CI †
19. Nelson J. Leonard (8 pp) CI
20. Princess Chulabhorn (8 pp) CI F
21. Linus Pauling (26 pp) CI CHI N † L
22. Miklós Bodánszky (& Vincent du Vigneaud N) (12 pp) CI H
23. Melvin Calvin (12 pp) CI N † J L
24. Donald R. Huffman (10 pp) CI
25. Alan G. MacDiarmid (10 pp) CH N
26. Alan G. Heeger (18 pp) N J
27. Jens Christian Skou (26 pp) CHI N
28. Paul C. Lauterbur (& wife, M. Joan Dawson) (26 pp) N
29. Gunther S. Stent (48 pp, the longest entry) CH J
30. Sir John E. Sulston (22 pp) N
31. Renato Dulbecco (& Paul Berg on Renato Dulbecco) (28 pp) N L
32. Baruch S. Blumberg (10 pp) CH N J
33. Arvid Carlsson (30 pp) N
34. Oleh Hornykiewicz (30 pp)
35. Paul Greengard (18 pp) N J
36. Eric R. Kandel (14 pp) N J
However, in addition to these interviewees a number of other scientific luminaries are discussed, such as Archimedes, J. Desmond Bernal, Erwin Chargaff, Sir Henry Dale, Max Delbrück, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Buckminster Fuller (whom some of the interviewees criticized), George Gamow, Martin Gardner, Stephen Hawking, Theodore van Kármán, Steephen Kuffler, Lev Landau, Salvador Luria, J. Robert Oppenheimer (“He lied [to the Personnel Security Board].”—Harold Agnew, p 306), Leslie Orgel, Max Perutz, Michael Polanyi, Frederick Soddy, Edward Teller, Vincent du Vigneaud, and James D. Watson.
Nineteen (more than half) of the interviewees are Nobel laureates, and many are recipients of the Wolf Prize, National Medal of Science, or honorary degrees. Only three of the scientists are women (Vera C. Rubin, Neta A. Bahcall, and Princess Chulabhorn) so, despite the increasing acceptance of women in academic, industrial, and governmental laboratories, further advances in the struggle against sexism are needed. According to Rubin,
At universities with large graduate science departments the women can name the professors they are warned not to attempt to work with. Although the colleges deny that such exist, the women know that they would never succeed with these male faculty (p 257).
When a selection or promotion to full professorships comes up, most of the people on the committees are men. They seem to know their other fellow men better than they know the women in the field and thus vote for them (p 277).
Rubin and Bahcall are married to scientists, and they explain how they balanced marriage and parenting with their careers.
An extremely high proportion of the interviewees (at least 12 or one-third) are Jewish, so the issues of Judaism, the reasons for the preponderance of Jews among scientists of the first rank, the Holocaust, Israel, anti-Semitism, and Jewish self-hatred are discussed by many of them. According to Gunther S. Stent,
In my first few years in the States I did try to keep secret my shameful status as a German-Jewish refugee, especially in the anti-Semitic ambiance of the University of Illinois, where living accommodations for Jews and Gentiles were totally segregated. In some respects, the social and sexual isolation of the Jewish students at Illinois was even more complete than in pre-Nazi Berlin. Moreover, I was told that there never were and there never would be any Jewish chemistry professors at Illinois (p 515).
I find Viennese hypocrisy and anti-Semitism difficult to accept. To give you but one example, after I won the Nobel Prize, the Austrians, the very people who expelled me, all of a sudden said, how wonderful it was for another Austrian to have won the Nobel Prize. I had to remind them that this was not an Austrian Nobel Prize, this was an American Nobel Prize….[German historian Fritz Stern and I], we’re organizing something…designed to contrast the honest and transparent German response to the Nazi period to the persistent denial of complicity and guilt on the part of the Austrians (Eric R. Kandel, p 668).
The Jews no longer get the highest grades at Harvard. Now, it’s the Chinese. So it may be that Jewish creativity and hunger for knowledge has reached its peak. I doubt it (Eric R. Kandel, p 678).
Although many of the interviewees are not religious, as expected of a diverse group of highly individualistic persons with strong opinions, they do not always agree on this or other topics. Some are declared atheists, while others are agnostics or uncertain about their views:
I am not religious. I am a Jew, I am part of that culture, but I never go to services. We raised our sons as Jewish, not as religious (Alan G. Heeger, p 426).
Although I still like to go to [the Danish Protestant] church, I’m not sure whether I’m a believer anymore. Christianity is important to me because much of our values in society are based on it (Jens Christian Skou, p 453).
With all the religions, they put a fence around you; they say, this is the answer, we got all the answers and you look it up in the book. It’s not that way with science; you realize the boundaries of your ignorance and that there is an infinite domain beyond those boundaries (Sir John E. Sulston, p 543).
With or without God, the world is a fantastic thing to experience (Arvid Carlsson, p 613).
In response to the question about the future of the Human Genome Project, Renato Dulbecco predicted,
If there were a commitment and someone came up with the money to do it, I believe that the human genome could be done in less than 10 years. I am absolutely convinced that the time has come (p 575).
The interviews include one or more portraits, many photographed by István or Magdi. The volume contains 160 illustrations, not only formal and informal photos of interviewees both as adults and as children, their families, colleagues, and students, and equipment, but also of some unusual items such as a Penrose pattern (p 38), quasicrystals (p 79), Luis W. Alvarez’s August 9, 1945 letter to former colleague Ryokichi Sagane of the University of Tokyo, urging him to ask the Japanese General Staff to surrender (p 208), the team with the instrument with which they measured the yield of the Hiroshima bomb (p 303), Linus Pauling’s drawing of the a-helix (p 357), and Donald R. Huffman and Wolfgang Krätschmer’s reenactment of their isolation of C60 (p 397).
The Hargittais’ questions are printed in italics, and the much longer responses appear in Roman type. Nine of the interviewees (Coxeter, Schawlow, Alvarez, Pickering, Fowler, Segrè, Lawson, Pauling, and Calvin) are now deceased, more than in any of the previous volumes, underscoring the importance of acquiring such oral histories promptly. In the words of Luis W. Alvarez,
My main thought about such interviews is that people much sooner should be interviewed. Science is a young man’s game (p 217).
A name index (11 double-column pages with boldface page numbers referring to interviews) but no subject index is provided. A cumulative index of interviewees (three double-column pages) for all five volumes to date is included.
In view of the length and scope of the book, the number of errors is small and limited to readily detected proper nouns, “typos,” or grammatical errors made by the interviewees themselves—“laid for “lay” (p viii); “me and my wife” for “my wife and me” (p ix); “Bondy” for “Bondi” (Henry, p 47); “Emeleus” for “Emeléus” (p 62); “S. G.” for “F. G. (Mann, p 62); “It’s” for “Its” (p 68); “Mossbauer” for “Mößbauer” (p 72); “effected” for “affected” (p 80); “ruler” for “rule” (p 143); “has” for “had” (p 156); “me and Ed McMillan” for “Ed McMillan and me” (p 209); “most everybody” for “almost everybody” (p 216); “like” for “as” (pp 217 and 409); “van de Graaff” for “Van de Graaff” (p 239, twice; p 240); “Battel” for “Battelle” (p 304); “me” for “I” (p 314); “Heyrovsky’s” for Heyrovský’s (P 318); “pallegra” for pellagra” (p 363, four times); “charm” for “a charm” (p 376); “the Stockholm” for “to Stockholm” (p 500); “chicken” for “chickens” (p 563); and “University of Philadelphia” for “University of Pennsylvania” (p 579).
In the words of Arvid Carlsson,
Once again, the Hargittais are to be congratulated on yet another masterful Candid Science volume. It will certainly be enjoyed by a great number of enthusiastic readers (p vi).
I heartily second Carlsson’s evaluation, and I recommend this handy volume, admirably suited for complete reading or browsing, not only to historians of science but also to practicing mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, chemists, physiologists, physicians, and other scientists, especially beginning ones, as well as to students, who will surely benefit from these inspiring stories by some of science’s leading luminaries.
References and Notes
1. Hargittai, I. Candid Science: Conversations with Famous Chemists; Hargittai, M. Ed.; Imperial College Press: London, England, 2000. For a review, see Kauffman, G. B.; Kauffman, L. M. Chem. Educator 2002, 7, 184–186; DOI 10.1333/s00897020570a.
2. Hargittai, I. Candid Science II: Conversations with Famous Biomedical Scientists;Hargittai, M., Ed.; Imperial College Press: London, England, 2002. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Chem. Educator 2003, 8, 90–93; DOI 10.1333/s00897030663a.
3. Hargittai, I. Candid Science III: More Conversations with Famous Chemists; Hargittai, M., Ed.; Imperial College Press: London, England, 2003. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Chem. Educator 2004, 9, 52–55; DOI 10.1333/s00897030763a.
4. Hargittai, M.; Hargittai, I. Candid Science IV: Conversations with Famous Physicists; Imperial College Press: London, England, 2004. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Chem. Educator 2006, 11, 58–64; DOI 10.1333/s00897061002a.
5. http://www.fonar.com/pdf/times_ad.pdf (accessed July 2006).
6. Judson, H. F. No Nobel Prize for Whining. New York Times, October 20, 2003; http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/20/opinion/ 20JUDS.html (accessed July 2006).
7. Pearson, H. Nobel protester wins alternative prize. Stockholm ceremony proceeds despite dispute. Nature, December 10, 2003; http://www.nature.com/nsu/031208/031208-6.html (accessed July 2006).
8. Anonymous. The price of honor. Science 2003, 302, 2065.
9. Hollis, D. P. Abusing Cancer Science: The Truth about NMR and Cancer; Strawberry Fields Press: Chehalis, WA, 1987.
George B. Kauffman
California State University, Fresno, firstname.lastname@example.org