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Book Review: Van der Waals and Molecular Science



Johanna Levelt Sengers, S G. Brush


Among 19th-century founders of statistical-molecular physics. Several such as Maxwell, Boltzmann, and Gibbs, have been the subject of book-length biographies and historical articles analysing their work. Comparatively little has been written in English aout Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837-1923), though his name is well known to most physical scientists since he was the most successful in relating kinetic theory to the properties of real fluids.In 1985, two Russians, A. Ya. Kipnis and B. E. Yavelov. Published a biography of Vander Waals, on which they had worked for many years in almost total geographical isolation. The present book is an English translation from the Russian. J S. Rowlinson, who recently published an English translation of Van der Waals's thesis,1 participated in this translation of the Russian biography and contributed substantially to the treatment of the scientific aspects of Van der Waals's life work. These three authors have composed a truly remarkable book. As a biography, it goes well beyond the customary description of a subject's young years, studies scientific career, major achievements, honors and impact. Based on an extraordinarily extensive set of references, many of them in the Dutch language and many of them private communications from Dutch sources, the authors paint a picture of Dutch society in the 19th century as it set the stage for Van der Waal's life. In the process, the authors highlight the political and educational factors that made Holland in the second half of the 19th century such a fertile ground for science.
Journal of Statistical Physics


statistical-molecular physics


Levelt, J. and Brush, S. (1997), Book Review: Van der Waals and Molecular Science, Journal of Statistical Physics (Accessed April 23, 2024)
Created May 1, 1997, Updated February 17, 2017