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Publishers WeeklyChemist and scholar Coffey brings to life the struggles of pioneering chemists who modernized the field. Many of these scientists met tragic ends and twists of fate, such as Fritz Haber, who developed the pesticide that would be used in Nazi gas chambers to kill his own relatives. Other scientists, like Marjorie Wrinch, became so attached to disproved pet theories that they sank into endless resentment. Coffey begins with some giants of European chemistry-Arrhenius, Nernst, Ostvald, van't Hoff-and proceeds through a number of their followers, including Americans Gilbert Lewis and Irving Langmuir. WWI saw Haber achieve infamy for his invention of mustard gas; soon, Langmuir was working to replicate the Germans' chemical weapon for the U.S., and Lewis was training gas officers for the frontlines. WWII also saw important chemistry advances; Lewis, his student Harold Urey, and Glen Seaborg pioneered techniques of nuclear chemistry essential to the creation of the Bomb. When told the loss of Jewish scientists would irrevocably damage German science, Hitler replied, "Then we will do without physics and chemistry for the next hundred years"; in this engrossing, often somber history, Coffey reminds us not just that science trumped by ideology is a damning proposition, but that even the most complex science starts with the efforts of mere humans.
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