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Creations Of Fire: Chemistry's Lively History From Alchemy To The Atomic Age Paperback – January 15, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

As professors of chemistry, the authors could have approached the history of their science from a technical perspective, but they chose instead to place it within the broader framework of social, cultural, and political circumstances. Although their treatment of people and events is at the introductory level, their broad time line begins with chemistry in the Stone Age and ends with current areas of interest such as superheavy elements and the polymerase chain reaction. Along the way, the coverage includes alchemy, cold fusion, and many more popular subjects, as well as less familiar topics like the contributions of Lise Meitner and Marie Lavoisier. Several other concise histories are available (e.g., H.W. Salzberg's From Caveman to Chemist, American Chemical Society, 1991), but this book's light and often humorous style makes it especially appealing to the general reader. Recommended for both history of science and chemistry collections.?Jan Williams, Monsanto Co., St. Louis
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Excellently written...highly recommended." -- -Choice

"Well-written, witty and erudite. An excellent introduction for anyone interested in the development of chemistry." -- -Martin Saltzman, Ph.D., Chair, Division of History of Chemistry, American Chemical Society
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073820594X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738205946
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #450,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have always liked the science of chemistry. It was, in fact, a hobby of mine when I was in my teens, but I eventually chose to go into biology. I still had to minor in chemistry and physics, and while I struggled in physics, chemistry was my cup of tea!

One of the reasons for this was my fascination with the history of the science and I was much influenced by "Crucibles" by Bernard Jaffe. This was (and still is) a very interesting and informative book, but I think now much improved upon by "Creations of Fire: Chemistry's Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age" by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite. In this current volume the authors include a number of researchers only mentioned in passing or not at all by Jaffe. In addition they have placed chemical advances in the perspective of the time in which they occurred. This is science history as it should be written! I always think that the history of any subject, be it science, literature, art or religion, better informs the student than presenting only the current thinking in the given field. I know that I understand the structure of modern chemistry better when I also understand the steps that led to it.

I highly recommend this excellent history of chemical thought to student and professional alike, as well as anyone who wants to understand how scientists got Avogadro's law, atomic theory, or discovered the elements and the periodic table. Hint: they all took a lot of work and determination and were understood only after a lot of blind alleys and conflict. Nothing was self evident or handed down on a platter!
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By A Customer on September 1, 1998
Format: Paperback
Unputdownable. The story of hundreds of scientists and enthusiasts who wanted to understand matter and gradually decoded its secrets. Generally accessible to the lay-reader (I got a little lost when we reached proteins, enzymes and so forth), its full of little quirky details from the lives of the protagonists, making them human and interesting.
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Format: Paperback
If you have to own one chemistry book, this should be the one. It explains the concepts, frames the drama, and avoids the nomenclature and exasperating detail. Chemistry forms the basis of the material world, and the future of many technologies, ranging from medicine and electronics to materials and environmental science. The approach to chemistry, over the millennia, has defined scientific method and ultimately, philosophy of science. From this book, one can grasp the dramatic outline, with all explanations easily digested, and the dramatic highpoints presented with just the right flourish. These two writers do not come from Oxford but rather a state school in California, and they tell the tale with a simplicity and directness that most anybody can appreciate.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For me, knowing how a science developed often seems like the best way to understand its basic ideas. Sight unseen, this book sounded like my best bet for a history of chemistry. Not a chemist myself, but the son of one with private labs in our basement, I took a year of chem in high school long ago and in recent years have read a fair amount of bio-science that naturally visits chemical knowledge. So I'm a little familiar with the basics, and I thought maybe learning how modern chemistry came to be would give me a similar understanding to the one I got of calculus (which I also studied in college) by learning what practical problems Newton was trying to solve (like how high to aim a cannon ball) when he invented calculus and added it to algebra.

Unfortunately, this book does a poor job of describing what the early modern chemists were actually doing as they tried to figure out that there might be more than one kind of "air", which seems to have been the key to realizing both that matter is comprised of many different elements and that matter is atomic. I imagine other chemists can visualize what the groping scientists were actually doing; but oftentimes I couldn't. Although every intro chemistry textbook is loaded with sketches and diagrams, this book has almost none besides historical faces. If you don't already know what simple chemical lab equipment looks like (my wife had no idea what a "retort" is, though I happen to know because of my upbringing), this book won't tell you, and you won't be able to figure out how these guys were managing to do things like separate one invisible gas ("air") from another. (There is an image of the all-important Periodic Table, but you may not notice it at first; it's printed on the inside back cover of the paperback edition.
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Format: Paperback
I checked this out from my local library a couple of years ago, as the subject matter was faintly related to a project I was researching at the time. I was much surprised at this gay jaunt through history and the down to earth manner in which it layed out the evolution of science and learning.

I find, 2 years later, that a few too many of these fascinating historical antecdotes have slipped from my memory, so now I must aquire my very own copy of this fine work. Creations of Fire is one reference book that should serve me well the rest of my life.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I got this book a few years ago and dipped into it occasionally. I wasn't too impressed. It struck me as a collection of mini-biographies of chemists rather than a history of chemistry.

Then I read the entry on Priestly. I have a high regard for Priestly, as a pioneering chemist, as an intellectual, and as a human being. But the article on Priestly was short, factually incorrect, obtuse (that is, the opposite of insightful), and insulting to the man. I could not believe that a book that contained that passage could be trusted on any other subject. I got rid of it.

As they say, your mileage may vary. Other folks seem to like the book. Maybe the authors were having a bad day when they wrote the section on Priestly, and other sections are better... So I'll offer these remarks simply as a report of one person's experience with the book.
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