Chemical history: reviews of the recent literature

Chemical history: reviews of the recent literature 

Colin Russell and Gerrylynn Roberts (eds) 

Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry | 2005 | 247 pp | ?59.95 (HB) | ISBN 0854044647 

Reviewed by Bill Griffith

In these days of doubt and uncertainty over the future of chemistry, it is consoling and reassuring to hear from this book that at least the history of the subject is thriving, perhaps as never before - more chemists in particular are writing about the history of their subject.  

The book is a successor to Colin Russell’s Recent developments in the history of chemistry (RSC, London, 1985), and as in that volume the aim is to tell us of recent progress in the history of the subject - a sort of ’history of histories’ - over the intervening 20 years. 

In his preface, Russell reminds us that historical studies can humanise the task of teaching chemistry and help towards a better perception of the subject by the public and government. The first chapter contains a useful critical compendium to general histories of chemistry and chemical biographies, including some on the internet. Noel Coley writes of chemistry before 1800 - there has been much interest in the area over the past 20 years.  

Subsequent chapters follow the largely traditional divisions of chemistry: inorganic chemistry (the late Alec Campbell); physical organic chemistry (John Shorter); physical chemistry (Theodore Arabatzis and Kostas Gavroglu); analytical chemistry (John Hudson); medical chemistry and biochemistry (Noel Coley); and instruments and apparatus (Robert Anderson).  

Although of course the approaches are individual, the material has been well drawn together by the editors. 

This is an excellent book, well-referenced and well-indexed, of interest to chemists (by whom it has largely been written) and historians alike.