The devil's doctor: Paracelsus and the world of Renaissance magic and science

The devil’s doctor: Paracelsus and the world of Renaissance magic and science 

Philip Ball 

London, UK: William Heinemann  | 2006 | 434 pp | ?20.00 (HB) | ISBN 0434011347 

Reviewed by George Mills

This is a very well written account of the main aspects of interfacial science. It is suitable for intermediate and senior undergraduates and fills a gap in the currently available text books.  

The book covers all the obvious topics that might be regarded as ’interfacial’, starting with three introductory chapters on the thermodynamics of surfaces and interfaces, and ending with a chapter on biological interfaces and membranes, with the usual gas-liquid, gas-solid, liquid-liquid and liquid-solid interfaces in between.  

Some of the chapters are quantitative in approach, with important derivations given in blocks, which do not restrict the flow. Others are almost entirely qualitative - one suspects for lack of space. For example, in the chapter on biological interfaces, which leads eventually to cell membranes (and then covers structure and function in a few pages), one detects a need to curtail.  

It is a challenge to cover the whole of interfacial science in less than 250 pages and still do the subject justice. Nevertheless, it is skimping to cover techniques for studying Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) films in eight pages. Also molecular recognition - surely one of the most important modern aspects of the subject - is worth more than a single paragraph. However, the emphasis on modern applications of the subject; for example, in detergency, lung surfactancy, molecular electronics and coatings technology is welcome. This gives the book a really up-to-date feel, and easily offsets the tendency for many scientists to believe that interfacial science is still about the adsorption of surfactants to produce micelles, LB films, and membranes. It is, of course, but this book makes it clear to the student that there is emerging science, which is equally important. 

The book is beautifully illustrated with diagrams, graphs and images - all designed to teach a particular point. There is also a set of problems at the end of each chapter, regrettably without answers. 

This book will be very useful to both lecturers and students, especially those teaching and learning in the fourth year. It is probably 50 pages too short, but at least it is affordable.