Books to Note: Winter 2007/8

David Pantalony; Richard L. Kremer; Francis J. Manasek. Study, Measure, Experiment: Stories of Scientific Instruments at Dartmouth College. Norwich, VT: Terra Nova Press, 2005. ix + 271 pp. $65.

Marking the completion of a five-year effort to transform a hidden collection of scientific instruments into a national treasure and enduring institutional asset, Pantalony's book is an inspiration. Short essays tell the history of the Allen King Collection of Scientific Instruments, survey the history of scientific instruction at Dartmouth College and discuss the significance of scientific instruments as primary sources for historical scholarship. Catalog entries on 97 evocative objects include photographs, documents, and a short description of each. (A list of the featured instruments, either in the table of contents or as an appendix, would have been useful.) I hope this model for professional curatorship of university collections outside the museum inspires other such projects. I also hope that it inspires Dartmouth to honor the King legacy by publishing additional catalogs (with more chemistry-related entries!) and beginning to collect examples of contemporary science and technology apparatus. --Deborah Douglas

 

David Edgerton. Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. xviii + 270 pp. $26.

This refreshing new book offers a wonderfully sobering antidote to the neotechnophilia that often characterizes our society. In his romp through 20th-century technology, Edgerton marvels not at the progression of new technologies but at the persistence of old ones and the ways in which they have shaped, and continue to shape, the fabric of our lives. He challenges the innovation-centered stories that have come to dominate recent histories of technology and instead exposes the ways in which the old is sustained. Edgerton demonstrates the role of the old thematically by the varied tasks assigned to technologies (production, war, killing, and invention) and the social structures that keep them going (nation-states and maintenance). Of particular interest is Edgerton’s attention to the chemical industry. Stories of innovation and invention that hail high-energy physics and, more recently, biotechnology, omit the role that chemistry—in particular chemical engineering—has played and continues to play in both academic and industrial science and technology. Indeed, in the 19th century, long before industry–university relations became a research model, chemists were already providing a bridge between these two societal sectors. --Jody Roberts

Chris Peterson And Cliff Mead, Editors. The Pauling Catalogue: Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers at Oregon State University. Corvallis, OR: Special Collections, Oregon State University Libraries, 2006. xcvii + 1,670 pp. $125.

For nearly 20 years the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections has been cataloging over 500,000 items related to the lives and careers of Ava Helen and Linus Pauling. This ambitious project has now yielded The Pauling Catalogue, a 6-volume set that spans nearly 1,700 pages and includes over 1,200 images. Perhaps one of the largest personal archives in the world, the collection contains Pauling's extensive scientific papers on structural chemistry, molecular biology, and nutrition. The collection also documents the Paulings' long-standing and mutual devotion to world peace, civil liberties, and nuclear nonproliferation-a devotion that led Linus to become the recipient of two unshared Nobel prizes (Chemistry, 1954; Peace, 1962). Much more than an index of items, The Pauling Catalogue also includes extensive introductions to each volume, an illustrated 45-page timeline chronicling the lives of the Paulings, and a reproduction of a diary kept by Linus when he was a college freshman at Oregon State University. --Patrick Shea

Fabrizio Pregadio. Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Early Medieval China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. xvii+367 pp. $60.

Most scholars of Chinese alchemy have focused on two phases: the "external" alchemy (waidan) fashionable from about the 7th century to the 10th, in which alchemists cooked metallic mixtures in crucibles, and the "internal" form (neidan) that gradually supplanted waidan. Neidan was meant to achieve the same result by generating the elixir inside the practitioner's own body through physical discipline and meditation. Pregadio traces the rise and fall of an earlier Chinese alchemy that appears in scriptures from the 3rd to 6th centuries and was associated with the Great Clarity tradition of Daoism (or Taoism). Readers educated in chemistry will enjoy the author's annotated translations of these scriptures, which specify the steps for producing elixirs that would protect the successful practitioner from aging, injury, and demons and help him communicate with deities. Great Clarity alchemy spread quickly in southern China, but by the 7th century, proponents of newer, more powerful Daoist lineages there demoted the status of Great Clarity scriptures and reinterpreted alchemy as a way to understand the cosmos rather than to join the heavenly bureaucracy. --Hilary A. Smith

Pap A. Ndiaye. Nylon and Bombs: DuPont and the March of Modern America, translated by Elborg Forster. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 304 pp. $45.00.

The juggernaut that was the postwar American economy was built on the twin pillars of consumerism and militarism, topics usually studied separately. In Nylon and Bombs the French historian of science and technology Pap Ndiaye attempts to integrate the two halves of this story by following the fortunes of chemical engineers at DuPont. As the book's title suggests, DuPont's engineers were involved in the mass production of two of the most iconic products of the 20th century: nylon and plutonium. While nylon found its way into both consumer and military goods, the plutonium produced at the DuPont-built plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; in Hanford, Washington; and at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina was destined almost exclusively for military use. Nylon's story is by now a familiar one, but the role of such corporations as DuPont, Union Carbide, and Eastman Kodak in the production of nuclear weapons has largely been forgotten. Chemical engineers in particular will enjoy Ndiaye's attempt to put technological know-how squarely at the center of American dominance in World War II. --Audra J. Wolfe