Nobel laureate contributions to 20th century chemistry

Nobel laureate contributions to 20th century chemistry 

David Rogers 

Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry  | 2006 | 656 pp | ?99.95 (HB) | ISBN 085404356X 

Reviewed by Bill Griffith

This handsomely produced book lists all those who have won the Nobel prize for chemistry from its inception in 1901 (van’t Hoff) until 2000. There are 155 entries, including brief accounts of 20 chemists who have won the prize in physiology or medicine (though unfortunately those chemists who won the physics prize are not listed) and of 135 who won the prize for chemistry. Fred Sanger is the only person to have won two chemistry prizes (insulin, 1958; genome research, 1980); the Curie family won six prizes (three for chemistry, two for physics, and one for peace). Britain figures 26 times in the list (Ramsay, Rutherford, Soddy, Aston, Harden, Haworth, Robinson, Martin, Synge, Hinshelwood, Todd, Sanger, Kendrew, Perutz, Hodgkin, Norrish, Porter, Barton, Wilkinson, Cornforth, Mitchell, Smith, Kroto, Walker, and Pople). 

For each person there is a photograph, an introduction with the Nobel citation, some general information and a list of the laureate’s proposers. Early years, education at school and university, is followed by The career, a table of academic or industrial posts held by the laureate, then a brief description of the topic for which the prize was awarded and, sometimes, snippets of personal detail; one would have liked more of these. Thus, we are told that Fr?d?ric Joliot-Curie had many political interests and was relieved of his duties ’for political reasons’ in 1950, but are told tantalisingly little of the 1935 co-laureate, his wife Ir?ne. We are also told of George Porter’s appearance on BBC radio programme Desert island discs. An honours and awards section follows and a short bibliography. The final chapter, Collaborations and influences, has, inter alia, a list of chemists nominated for at least five year periods but who failed to receive the accolade (from 1901-1950; names are released after 50 years). 

This is a fascinating reference book, full of useful and well-presented information.