They started with four: earth, air, fire, and water. From these basics, they sought to understand the essential ingredients of the world. Those who could see further, those who understood that the four were just the beginning, were the last sorcerers and the world s first chemists.
What we now call chemistry began in the fiery cauldrons of mystics and sorcerers seeking not to make a better world through science, but rather to make themselves richer through magic formulas and con games. But among these early magicians, frauds, and con artists were a few far-seeing alchemists who, through rigorous experimentation, transformed mysticism into science.
By the 18th century the building blocks of nature, the elements of which all matter is composed, were on the verge of being discovery. Initially, it was not easy to determine whether a substance really was an element. Was water just water, plain and simple? Or could it be the sum of other (unknown and maybe unknowable) parts? And if water was made up of other substances, how could it be broken down into discreet, fundamental, and measurable components?
Scientific historians generally credit the great 18th century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier with addressing these fundamental questions and ultimately modernizing the field of chemistry. Through his meticulous and precise work this chaotic new field of scientific inquiry was given order. Exacting by nature, Lavoisier painstakingly set about performing experiments that would provide lasting and verifiable proofs of various chemical theories. Unfortunately, the outspoken Lavoisier eventually lost his head in the Terror, but others would follow his lead, carefully examining, measuring, and recording their findings.
As the field slowly progressed, another pioneer was to emerged almost 100 years later. Dimitri Mendeleev, an eccentric genius who cut his flowing hair and beard but once a year, sought to answer the most pressing questions that remained to chemists: Why did some elements have properties that resembled those of others? Were there certain natural groups of elements? And, if so, how many, and what elements fit into them? It was Mendeleev who finally addressed all these issues when he constructed the first Periodic Table in the late 1800s.
But between and after Lavoisier and Mendeleev were a host of other colorful, brilliant scientists who made their mark on the field of chemistry. Depicting the lively careers of these scientists and their contributions while carefully deconstructing the history and the science, author Richard Morris skillfully brings it all to life. Hailed by Kirkus Reviews as a clear and lively writer with a penchant for down-to-earth examples Morris s gift for explanation and pure entertainment is abundantly obvious. Taking a cue from the great chemists themselves, Morris has brewed up a potent combination of the alluringly obscure and the historically momentous, spiked with just the right dose of quirky and ribald detail to deliver a magical brew of history, science, and personalities.
"...a fascinating read... In every case, Morris writes with a nice blend of science and human interest. ...well-written popular science, and as such deserves to be widely read. That it deals with chemistry's somewhat shady origins adds to its attraction. The fact that it also reveals the human side of some famous chemists adds even more to one's enjoyment."
-- Nature, January 1, 2004
"A relaxed romp through the lives of eminent chemists from alchemy through iatrochemistry, the chemical revolution, Mendeleev, the Bohr atom, and right up to superstrings. ... Morris has many good stories."
-- Chemical Heritage, Winter 2004/5
"The history of the periodic table is rife with rich stories and wacky characters. This book puts fun into the fundamentals of chemistry."
-- Northwest Books column, East Oregonian, November 9, 2003
"[A] lively account of how rigorous experimentation led from mysticism to science..."
-- Nob Hill Gazette, January 2004
"Overall, the book is easy to read even for nonchemists... the story that Morris paints emphasizes an important point: Science has always been global in its efforts and will certainly continue in this manner."
-- Chemical & Engineering News, October 6, 2003
"...Morris manages to make the history of the periodic table's conception fresh and quirky one more time."
-- Publishers Weekly
"In this lively chronology, Morris introduces these scores of others who shaped chemistry."
-- Science News, January 24, 2004
"...an excellent example of a 'popular chemistry' book... A potpourri of eccentric, foolhardy, strange, and even law-breaking geniuses and near-geniuses populate these pages. ... All in all, a good read for anyone interested in chemistry or the development of human ideas."
-- CHOICE, April 2004
"This book is written to present the history of chemistry (and a bit of physics) as a voyage of discovery. It makes excellent reading."
"By distilling weird but wondrous human chemistry, Richard Morris has brought forth--like a sorcerer--the enchanting drama of an awesome scientific saga."
-- Dudley Herschbach, winner of Nobel Prize in Chemistry
"As an introduction to the evolution of chemistry, it would be hard to beat Richard Morris's The Last Sorcerers. Erudite and entertaining, I enjoyed every page."
-- Michael White, co-author of Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science
"An intriguing look at the development of the chemical knowledge of atoms and elements which parallels the even more astonishing discoveries of recent years -- by physicists -- of the world within the atom. Interesting, informative and eminently readable."
-- Penny Le Couteur, author of Napoleon's Buttons: How Seventeen Molecules Changed History
"The struggle to understand the material world started with the ancient Greeks, who believed everything consisted of earth, air, fire, and water, and ended 2500 years later with the discovery of the chemical elements, the periodic table, and the structure of atoms. Along the way those shadowy figures, the much misunderstood alchemists of the Middle Ages, struggled with the problem, but with little success. Morris tells all these stories in a well-researched book that is both informative and a delight to read, with lots of amusing and dramatic anecdotes about those who finally brought us to our present state of knowledge."
-- John Emsley, author of The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus and Molecules at an Exhibition
"It's our journey from magic to molecules. It may explain why people still approach chemists asking, 'Hey, can you blow something up?'"
-- Bill Nye the Science Guy
"An entertaining romp through the maverick lives of great chemists and physicists, from the pioneers of chemistry who transcended their roots in alchemy to the atomic physicists who finally accomplished the alchemists' dream of transmuting matter."
-- Nick Lane, author of Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World
"An enjoyable and accessible tour through the distant mirror of alchemy, and the discoveries of the chemical elements, atomic, subatomic and quantum theories, emphasizing personalities of the scientists in their historical contexts."
-- Dr. Arthur Greenberg, Dean of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of New Hampshire and author of The Art of Chemistry
"Chemistry students nowadays are taught that the table is derived from the atomic structure of the elements. But lost from this logical approach are the individuals and drama through the ages that generated a disparate collection of knowledge about the natural world and then reduced it into the periodic law to give us the periodic table's present form. In his latest book, The Last Sorcerers: The Path From Alchemy to the Periodic Table, science writer Richard Morris, a physicist by training, elegantly gives us this story."
-- New Books Daily Review, October 8, 2003
About the PDF: What am I Buying?
About Our PDFs
This book can be purchased as a computer file. The format of the file is called a "PDF". To open, view and print the file, you must have third party software (e.g. Adobe Reader or XPDF) installed on your computer.
Benefits of Buying a PDF
Instant. Buy it, download it immediately, and start reading.
Convenient. Download it to your laptop and read it whenever, wherever.
Searchable. Search for any word or phrase.
What are my options?
|If you want ...
|... only a portion of the book||... select a PDF Chapter|
|... a computer file containing the entire book
||... buy a PDF
|... to read the book immediately and also own a copy for your bookshelf
||... buy the bundle
|... a copy for your bookshelf
||... buy the book
Will my PDF be emailed to me?
No. After buying the PDF, we will email you instructions on how to download the file from our Web site. The PDF file will not be emailed to you.
See our Frequently Asked Questions for more information including:
SIGN UP FOR...
New Title Emails
Read about the newest releases and receive special offers.