Cover: A History of Chemistry, from Harvard University PressCover: A History of Chemistry in HARDCOVER

A History of Chemistry

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$90.00 • £78.95 • €81.95

ISBN 9780674396593

Publication Date: 12/01/1996


313 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

7 line illustrations


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Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Isabelle Stengers are professional historians, and have written a book that will be accessible to those with little chemistry, and stimulating to those better informed. They reject the commonplace idea that there is some unchanging essential thing called chemistry, about which researchers are finding out more and more. From the beginning, they see chemistry’s place on the intellectual map as determined by constantly changing laboratory techniques, professions and institutions… [A] good story well told.—David Knight, Nature

How should the history of chemistry be written? The word ‘chemistry’ has its roots in Hellenistic Egypt, being centuries older than the comparative neologisms ‘physics’ and ‘biology’. Yet, even on this level, the sense of continuity can be deceptive… In view of this, any attempt to trace the history of science down the ages seems fraught with peculiar hazards. The authors of this book are well aware of the problems and confront them head-on, as they are well qualified to do… The key to their successful collaboration here is a willingness to recognize the fluid and unfinished identity of chemistry, its periodic remaking and realignment with the historical forces that have shaped it… This is a remarkable book: learned, thoughtful, and elegantly written and translated… Specialists…will…relish the imaginative picture of the history of chemistry it offers. For the chemists who will surely also be among its readers, the book conveys important lessons about the history of their science. And, for students and general readers, it conveys an enthusiasm for chemical ideas and discoveries that is quite infectious. The authors have aimed at a readership much wider than academic specialists, and they deserve to reach it.—Jan Golinski, Times Literary Supplement

The answer to the inevitable question ‘Is this history different from all the others?’ is a resounding ‘Yes.’ Although almost all the personalities and topics traditionally considered in the usual history of chemistry course are here, from the ancient alchemists to the latest developments…they are treated in a markedly different manner and context, with a greater emphasis on interdependence and relationships between events than is found in conventional texts… The authors show chemistry as a science whose identity has changed in response to its relation to society and to other disciplines. Their book is arranged chronologically, and each of its five chapters profiles a different face of chemistry, delineating its identity during each time period and presenting a corresponding picture of the chemists of that period… The authors succeed admirably in demonstrating that from its very beginning, chemistry’s position in the world of knowledge and culture had been determined by a combination of three factors that were constantly being redefined: laboratory techniques, professions, and institutions. [This book is] controversial, provocative, and thought-provoking… I recommend it warmly to…instructors of history of chemistry courses… The book will also be of great interest to chemical educators in general and practicing chemists.—George B. Kauffman, Journal of Chemical Education

A History of Chemistry is a pleasure to read, informative, provocative, up-to-date, serious. It will introduce the novice to the history of chemistry, and will pose the professional a series of challenging puzzles.—Diana Barkan, California Institute of Technology

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