From the Molecular World

A Nineteenth-Century Science Fantasy

by Alan J. Rocke, Hermann Kopp

Series: SpringerBriefs in History of Chemistry

Hermann Kopp (1817–1892) is best remembered today as a historian of chemistry, but during his lifetime he was one of the most eminent chemists of his day, and one of the earliest pioneers of physical chemistry.  Late in his career he wrote an endearing fantasy about personified molecules.  Published in 1882, Aus der Molecular-Welt (From the Molecular World) portrayed the intimate details of what might actually be happening in the sub-microscopic world; the atoms and molecules we meet there have agency, personalities, sometimes even dialog.  Filled with appealing tropes, humor, and whimsical asides, Kopp’s short book provided an examination of the chemistry and physics of his day that was always light-hearted on the surface, but often surprisingly profound.  Properly interpreted, the book provides a revealing tour of nineteenth-century debates concerning chemical theory.  It is here translated into English, richly annotated, and equipped with an illuminating preface by a leading historian of chemistry.  It provides entertaining reading to practicing chemists, as well as new insights to historians of science.


In The Press

“Alan J. Rocke has brought back to vibrant life a fanciful little book that the nineteenth-century physical chemist and historian of chemistry Hermann Kopp privately printed in 1882 as a birthday gift for his close friend Robert Bunsen. … an excellent addition to the SpringerBriefs in History of Chemistry series, edited by Seth C. Rasmussen.” (Mary Jo Nye, ISIS, Vol. 106 (1), 2015)

“Rocke has now provided a full translation of Kopp’s book, with an extensive introduction and explanatory footnotes … . Rocke’s translation is a welcome reminder that we still have much to learn about chemists and chemistry in the nineteenth century, and we should be thankful that he has made Kopp’s fertile imagination more accessible to non-German-speaking readers.” (Peter J. Ramberg, Ambix, Vol. 60 (2), May, 2013)

“In From the Molecular World, Kopp gave a survey of much of the domain of chemical interests from the atomic-molecular viewpoint. … provides a very useful overview of the theoretical ‘state-of-the-art’ of chemistry in the early 1880s. … In our own age of bewilderingly rapid social, economic, scientific technological change, it is comforting to read and savor Kopps molecular fantasy.” (Seymour Mauskopf, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Vol. 52 (13), 2013)

“The premise of the book is a tour of an aerarium … made up of containers into which one could peer to gain visual insights into the world of atoms and molecules. … it will appeal to historians of chemistry with a particular interest into what was going on in our subject in the second half of the 19th century.” (Alan Dronsfield, Chemistry World, August, 2012)


About The Author

Educated first as a chemist, Alan J. Rocke earned a Ph.D. in history of science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975.  Today he is the Henry Eldridge Bourne Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he has been teaching since 1978.  Rocke is the author of five books and nearly fifty journal articles on the history of chemistry, especially the theoretical development of the science in Europe during the course of the nineteenth century. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2000 received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for lifetime achievement in the history of chemistry.