Cover image for Prometheans in the lab : chemistry and the making of the modern world
Prometheans in the lab : chemistry and the making of the modern world
McGrayne, Sharon Bertsch.
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Publication Information:
New York : McGraw-Hill, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 243 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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Table of Contents
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TP18 .M34 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Newton, Darwin, Pasteur, Einstein and other great physicists and biologists are household names, but the great chemists have recieved little recognition. Yet it could be argued that chemistry, more than andy other scientific discipline, has made the modern world possible, largely through products that we take for granted.

Author Notes

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne is a science writer and award-winning journalist. She has been a reporter for Scripps-Howard, Crain's, Gannett, and other newspapers covering education, politics, science, and health issues. She is a former science editor and writer for Encyclopaedia Britannica and the author of several books, including Nobel Prize Women in Science.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In this striking and readable collection of nine thumbnail biographies of heroic (and troubled) figures in the history of chemistry, from Revolutionary France to Superfund America, McGrayne is conscientious about showing the downside of each chemical breakthrough, and the human flaws and "features" of each Promethean. Her writing style is smooth but sometimes puzzling; paragraphs can be a grab bag of loosely related ideas, many of them crying out for full exposition, that are as often as not introduced, twirled onstage, and dropped. The going is very rough indeed when McGrayne tackles the use of stable isotopes for geological dating, and there is the occasional outright gaffe, such as one involving the Chicago River. Professional chemists will be familiar with some of the biographees (Perkin, Carothers, Haber), but some (Rilleux, Midgely) are not even laboratory, let alone household, familiars. Yet all of them did work that is central to the creation of a world of clean air, safe food and water, cheap transport, and long lives. (Where is the Promethean who will bring these to the suffering Third World?) A worthy companion to McGrayne's Nobel Prize Women in Science (CH, Oct'93), and strongly recommended for college libraries, general readers, and curious chemists, lower-division undergraduate and up. T. R. Blackburn American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Preludep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Chapter 1 Soap and Nicolas Leblanc (December 6, 1742-January 16, 1806)p. 1
Chapter 2 Color and William Henry Perkin (March 12, 1838-July 14, 1907)p. 15
Chapter 3 Sugar and Norbert Rillieux (March 17, 1806-October 8, 1894)p. 30
Chapter 4 Clean Water and Edward Frankland (February 20, 1825-August 9, 1899)p. 43
Chapter 5 Fertilizer, Poison Gas, and Fritz Haber (December 9, 1868-January 29, 1934)p. 58
Chapter 6 Leaded Gasoline, Safe Refrigeration, and Thomas Midgley, Jr. (May 18, 1889-November 2, 1944)p. 79
Chapter 7 Nylon and Wallace Hume Carothers (April 27, 1896-April 29, 1937)p. 106
Chapter 8 DDT and Paul Hermann Muller (January 12, 1899-October 13, 1965)p. 148
Chapter 9 Lead-Free Gasoline and Clair C. Patterson (June 2, 1922-December 5, 1995)p. 168
Postludep. 198
Annotated Bibliographyp. 201
Indexp. 239