Customer Review

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gets at least one thing totally wrong, which makes me doubt the rest, 20 Dec. 2011
This review is from: The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table (Kindle Edition)
I actually enjoyed this book, mostly. However, when he writes about Goethe's 'Elective Affinities' he has got entirely the wrong end of the stick. He seems to be unaware that for most of the 18th century much of chemistry as it was taught, thought about, practiced and theorised, was built on the doctrine of affinities, often called (by those who disapproved of the baggage inevitably attached to the term 'affinities', 'elective attractions' (see e.g. Torbern Bergman's Dissertation on Elective Attractions). And this is what Goethe was referring to in his work. And indeed the novel gives a pretty coherent account of the theory as it was broadly accepted by the majority of chemists from the mid 18th century well into the 19th century. Whether Goethe's novel offered any piercing insight into human relationships I am not qualified to judge, but having done my doctoral research on the theory of chemical affinities, I am entirely qualified to point out that the author's comments on this work (and indeed his footnote on that section) are misleading, misjudged and factually incorrect. So if anyone reads it, PLEASE don't take these bits seriously!

The problem is that, having found this glaring error, which suggests at best some rather slapdash research into the more historical side of the book, I have to doubt the bits about which I am less qualified to judge. It's a shame, as we need more readable books about the history of chemistry. But we do need them to be correct!
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Review Details

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Reviewer

G. Taylor
(REAL NAME)   

Location: Cambs, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 120,607