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Leopold Gmelin: Handbook of Theoretical Chemistry, 3 vols.

Today's chemists will certainly be interested to see a chemistry textbook published 175 years ago and compare it to a current textbook. What topics were discussed and how chemistry looked like at that time? Thanks to the Gmelin Institute in Frankfurt for publishing a facsimile edition of Handbuch der theoretischen Chemie by Leopold Gmelin who held the first chair of chemistry at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

The book is rather difficult to read because it is printed in the old German letters (Gothic). The book starts with an introduction in four pages in which the author defines chemistry as a part of natural science and then goes on to explain the plan of the book. The book is composed of four parts: Cohesion (7 pages), Adhesion (6 pages), General Chemistry (37 pages), and Special Chemistry (1499 pages) -- thus the bulk of the book is in the last part. Under General Chemistry the topics discussed are: Chemical Affinity, Saturation, Neutralization, Decomposition, and related topics.

The Special Chemistry is composed of two parts: Chemistry of Unweighable Matter (light, heat, electricity), and Chemistry of Weighable Matter which in turn is composed of two large sections: Inorganic Compounds and Organic Compounds. It should be noted that sodium was known as natronium, magnesium as magnium, beryllium as glycium, aluminum as aluminium, and tungsten as scheel. Volume One covers all the material up to and including the nonmetals, Volume Two covers the metals, and Volume Three the organic compounds. No equations and no drawings can be seen in the book. Occasionally a few tables show analysis of material. The book can be easily mistaken for a novel.

There is, however, one important point related to this book: the author attempted for the first time in the history of chemistry to cite the original literature; i.e., he not only acknowledged his contemporary chemists and their work as other authors before him did, but he systematically indicated where their work was published. When he prepared new editions of the book, the lists of references increased. This was the motive behind which the German Chemical Society decided to continue preparing new editions and creating the Gmelin Institute for that purpose. Incidentally, the fifth edition was prepared in 1852-53 without the organic compounds part. Later Friedrich Konrad Beilstein (1838-1906) in Saint Petersburg undertook updating this part which eventually developed into the Beilstein Handbook now well known to organic chemists. Volume One starts with a preface by Ekkehard Fluck, the present director of the Gmelin Institute written in April 1988 and another by E.H. Erich Pietsch, former director, written in March 1967 for the first reprint edition.
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Author:Habashi, Fathi
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:440
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