Cover image for Magick, mayhem, and mavericks : the spirited history of physical chemistry
Magick, mayhem, and mavericks : the spirited history of physical chemistry
Cobb, Cathy.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 2002.
Physical Description:
420 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QD452 .C63 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Science popularizer Cathy Cobb takes a unique approach to explaining the concepts of physical chemistry by telling the story of the geniuses and eccentrics who made groundbreaking discoveries in this fascinating field that bridges chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The result is entertaining and illuminating.

Her tale is about the colorful varieties of human character as well as the struggles to understand the workings of the material world. Through true stories of rebels, recluses, heroes, and rogues, she helps the reader to discover how one idea built upon another and how an elegant discipline arose out of centuries of difficult trial and error.

Starting with the ancient Greeks, Cobb takes the reader on a sweeping tour of history. She shows how an understanding of basic chemical properties gradually arose out of ancient Greeks mathematics, Muslim science, medieval "magick," and the healing arts. Her tour continues through the scientific revolution, the emergence of physical chemistry as an independent discipline, and up to the present. Today, physical chemists contribute to the fields of chemical physiology, chemical oscillations and waves, quantum mechanics, and the curious and promising field of nanotechnology.

This absorbing, eloquently written history of science is loaded with intuitive imagery, everyday analogies, and a colorful cast of characters who are guaranteed to entertain as well as edify.

Author Notes

Cathy Cobb taught chemistry at Augusta State University and now teaches physics and mathematics at Aiken Preparatory School

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Lieutenant Anthony Walker is a former NYC cop who relocated to Connecticut to give his family a better life. Unfortunately, his wife acquired a taste for the finer things and left him for a wealthy man.When a prominent surgeon's wife is murdered, Walker's big city background gets him assigned to the case. Elizabeth Knoebel had a lot of enemies. The women in her therapy group hated her, and their husbands (several of whom she had slept with) wanted her kept quiet. And with good reason. Knoebel was keeping a detailed diary of her sexual encounters. Since so many of the suspects knew one another from therapy groups run by Dr. Randi Conway, Walker tries to get the doctor to open up about her patients. When Conway becomes a target, she and Walker find that they need each other. The excerpts from Knoebel's diary do a good job of showing what an unpleasant person the victim was, but the detailed sex scenes seem gratuitous. Otherwise, Graham does a good job building tension, and Walker is a strong, likable lead. A sequel is in the works.--Keefe, Karen Copyright 2010 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Anthony Walker spent a decade on the mean streets of New York City as a homicide cop. He saw the worst of the worst and it drove him to move his family to affluent Darien, CT, where the pay is lousy and the cost of living high, but Walker could count on coming home to his family each night. One problem, though: his wife was not impressed and left him. Now, he runs the detective desk in Darien and lives alone. When Walker is called to the scene of an attempted suicide, he meets psychologist Randi Conway, whose patient Elizabeth Knoebel, had tried to kill herself. When Elizabeth is later found shot to death, Randi and Anthony are thrown together to solve the case using Elizabeth's diary. VERDICT A dogged pursuit of the truth leads Walker to the culprit, but not before other deaths occur. Graham, the pen name of a New England suspense author, has written a crackerjack noir tale featuring a sad man trying to come to terms with a new life. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

All too often, the history of science is little known to science practitioners. This is unfortunate, as the history of the ideas, institutions, and people of science shape the science's progress. Fortunately, publications such as this provide sprightly history, in this case, of physical chemistry. Although professional historians might take issue with the ease of language and literary license Cobb (formerly, Augusta State Univ.) has freely exercised, the impact of an accessible and largely accurate tour de force far outweighs the benefits of traditional treatments. It is especially appealing to imagine undergraduates rummaging through Lavoisier, Gibbs, and Eyring and getting excited about the value added to their local experience of the subject--all the more so for graduate students. Faculty might even be moved to dust off Keith J. Laidler's The World of Physical Chemistry (CH, May'94) or John W. Servos's Physical Chemistry from Ostwald to Pauling (CH, Feb'91) for another look after walking through this stylish, easy-to-read work. Interesting was the attention given quantum mechanics and nanotechnology in part 4. For real people interested in the history of this science. For real historians of science, caveat emptor. Try reading the epilogue as prologue. Nice! ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals; two-year technical program students. L. W. Fine Columbia University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. 9
To My Physical Chemistry Kindredp. 11
Prefacep. 13
Introductionp. 17
Part I. Aristotle and the Ancients: Mathematics, Motion, and Machines
Introductionp. 25
1. The Ancients: Heavenly Geometryp. 27
2. Aristotle: Touching Earthp. 35
3. The Arabs: Mohammedan Amalgamationp. 45
4. Medieval Magick and Renaissance Revival: Finding the Forcep. 53
5. The Merchants: Mathematics of Money and Machines of Warp. 63
Part II. The European Scientific Revolution: The Passionate Pursuit of Order
Introductionp. 73
6. Mathematics: The First Wavep. 80
7. Physics: The First Wavep. 92
8. Chemistry: The First Wavep. 101
9. Mathematics and Physics: Wave after Wavep. 111
10. Lavoisier: The Chemical Sunamip. 121
Part III. The First Atomic Wars: Dalton to Perrin
Introductionp. 133
11. Dalton's Diminutive Friends: An Atomic Theoryp. 138
12. Thermodynamics: The Warmth and How It Spreadsp. 147
13. Gnats in Sunbeams: Kinetic Theory of Gasesp. 157
14. Statistical Mechanics: Maxwell's Demon and Boltzmann's Dreamp. 166
15. Thermochemistry: Willard Gibbs and the Quiet Insurrectionp. 177
16. Atoms or Not? The Test of Jean Perrinp. 186
Part IV. Physics and Chemistry Come to Light: Spectroscopy to Quantum Mechanics
Introductionp. 195
17. Spectroscopy: Rainbows from the Sunp. 198
18. Electromagnetism: The Nature of the Sunp. 207
19. Atomic Structure: Pieces and Puzzlesp. 217
20. The Quantum Revolution: Little Bits of Stuffp. 228
21. Quantum Riddle: When Is a Particle Not a Particle? When It's a Wavep. 239
Part V. The Flourish of the Physical Chemist: Affinity and Force
Introductionp. 247
22. Rebels and Radicals: Quantum Chemistry in the United Statesp. 250
23. System and Symmetry: The Further Developments of Quantum Chemistryp. 262
24. The Ionists and Affinity: Physikalische Chemiep. 275
25. Intermolecular Forces: The Tie That Bindsp. 285
26. Heirs to the Ionists: Physical Chemistry Crosses the Oceanp. 295
27. Reaction Rates: Physical Chemistry Keeps Pacep. 306
Part VI. The Fruits of Their Labors: The Product of Physcial Chemistry
Introductionp. 319
28. Physical Chemistry and Physiology: Not So Strange Bedfellowsp. 325
29. Nonlinear Dynamics: Physical Chemists Make Wavesp. 337
30. Nanotechnology: How Low Can You Go?p. 348
31. Extreme Quantum: The Questions Keep Comingp. 357
Epiloguep. 369
Notesp. 375
Selected Bibliographyp. 399
Indexp. 403