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The Wonders of modern chemistry : the principles on which they are based

by Joseph McCabe

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The Wonders of Modern Chemistry by Joseph McCabe   (2013-01-12)


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by wppalmer

Review of Little Blue Book # 1771. The Wonders of Modern Chemistry, the Principles on Which They Are Based, by Joseph McCabe.

CITATION: McCabe, Joseph (1943). The Wonders of Modern Chemistry, the Principles on Which They Are Based. (Little Blue Book # 1771, Self educator series, No 10). Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Reviewer: Dr W. P. Palmer

In order to evaluate this 32 page booklet, it is useful to know a little about the author, Joseph McCabe and his publisher, Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. Haldeman-Julius was a successful publisher of more than 2000 Little Blue Books, about 1000 Big Blue Books and numerous magazines. Most aimed to be sold as cheaply as possible at the lowest end of the market on poor quality paper and generally badly printed with Little Blue Books selling at just five cents each. Total numbers printed are said to be 500 million. Although Haldeman-Julius stated aims were cultural and educational, his publishing business made him a millionaire. Most of his publications expressed an atheistic viewpoint and he promoted writing supporting evolution and sexual openness. Joseph McCabe was a former catholic priest, who made a living from his writing attacking the Catholic Church and promoting atheism. When he started writing for Haldeman-Julius, he had already been years writing for more than 20 years with many books to his credit. He then wrote about 15-20% of all Haldeman-Julius' titles, often adapting his earlier work and becoming increasingly repetitive. His life story is well told by Bill Cooke in <a href="">A Rebel to His Last Breath: Joseph McCabe and Rationalism</a>.

Joseph McCabe considered himself to be a philosopher; his scholarship in history, particularly church history is undoubted. He also considered himself qualified to write on all aspects of science from evolution to relativity; he wrote at length on numerous areas of science. The question is how convincing is Joseph McCabe when writing about modern chemistry in 1943 to an audience that needs education in this area; has McCabe demonstrated his knowledge of the modern chemistry of his era? Has he linked this work in educational terms to the two other works on chemistry in the Little Blue Book series?

His four chapter headings in a 32 page booklet are:
1. The discovery of atoms
2. Electrons and the stuff of the universe
3. The wizardry of modern science
4. The greater age to come

Chapter 1 covers science from pre-history through John Dalton's atomic theory to the spectroscope, with asides about how McCabe's views differ from those of Eddington and Jeans. Chapter 2 gives a brief description of the electronic structure of the elements. On page 14 McCabe describes the work of `Thomas' by which he means J. J. Thomson? McCabe argues about the different perspectives of physicists and chemists and on how human life started, but a continuous relevant theme is lacking. Chapter 3 starts with a personal recollection of how the theory of vitalism in Chemistry was an one area that caused McCabe's dispute with the Catholic Church and indeed as he tells the story one cannot help sympathising with him. However it is not really an essential element in the story of modern chemistry. The final chapter considers arguments on nature and nurture and the problem that minute quantities of chemicals can affect the human personality. This is an interesting discussion, but it is only partially relevant to the title of the booklet.

The review concludes that McCabe has largely filled the booklet with material irrelevant to its title and that this booklet in the `Self Educator Series' certainly does not educate in any great degree the area of modern chemistry.

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