The title Exploring Chemistry explains the goals of Gallant’s book, and he explores chemistry in a quite enjoyable fashion. First, some of the values of this field to modern (1950’s) society are closely scrutinized. Then, Gallant elaborates on the development of the science of chemistry over the centuries, in ever-accelerating fits and starts. Much is made of the need for both precise thinking and extensive physical experimentation by chemists. In that light, Gallant shows that the beginnings of modern chemistry were not possible until the seventeenth century, when technology reached a minimum state required for further progress. Nevertheless, the contributions of natural philosophers of antiquity, who were hampered by lack of technology, and of alchemists, who sought mostly to make gold, are also shown to be very important.
The description of the fascinating nature of chemistry is aided by the many illustrations that were conceived by Gallant’s artist-collaborator, Lee Ames. Gallant identifies the known elements and describes the discovery of new ones, defines the subatomic particles that make up the atoms of the myriad different kinds of matter, and conceptualizes the needs of society for foods and for many other items. The profession of chemistry is thus shown to be being quite rewarding and very enticing.
Another exciting aspect of the book comes from its many predictions about the future of chemistry, from the perspective of the 1950’s, including advances in the areas of fuel, agricultural, organic, biological, theoretical, and medicinal chemistry. These advances are, like the rest of the book, described simply and in an understandable manner. The hindsight available to readers who now live in the future that Gallant described will probably foster an interest in chemistry for several reasons. The science of chemistry seems to have a predictive quality, because many concepts suggested by the author were actualized. On the other hand, not everything that is conceptualized comes to pass, and a career in chemistry offers the excitement of challenge, potential, and risk. Furthermore, the science of chemistry is shown to have become increasingly essential to society.
Exploring Chemistry is an older book that still offers an excellent beginning for surveying the basis for, the development of, and some rewards of the practice of chemistry. It seems most suitable for history of science courses and courses that, in some elementary and middle schools, seek to delve into the foundations of science and into its many ramifications.
Roy A. Gallant clearly shows how natural philosophy, alchemy, and basic science were blended to create modern chemistry. It is also made explicit that chemists must be bright, intuitive, and willing to take risks to develop new things. The great rewards of conceptualizing and actualizing chemistry are implied, and the book would be a good primer to explain to young people what chemistry is, what it can become, and why they may wish to become chemists. The necessary intellectual requirements and the labor-intensive nature of the profession are identified by past examples, promoting realistic career choices.
Exploring Chemistry contains numerous good black-and-white and color illustrations that help to focus the interest of young readers. All these aspects make the book useful for young people as a means of evaluating chemistry and what it is like to be a chemist or a science historian.
Exploring Chemistry is one of many writings by Gallant, who has endeavored in such works as Exploring the Universe (1956) and Exploring the Weather (1957) to explain science. It is nicely written and is a useful preview or adjunct to the chemistry texts written for students in elementary and secondary school science courses. While the book only conceptualizes chemistry up to the 1950’s, it does so well and lacks most of the dated and therefore erroneous information that makes many such books quite useless. Gallant’s book is not as detailed as some others in the area, such as Elizabeth K. Cooper’s Discovering Chemistry (1959), but it engages the reader in the wonder of chemistry.