The Case of the Poisonous Socks: Tales from Chemistry Author: William H Brock

About this book

In 1868, The Times reported that poisons contained in dyes were affecting the public's health. A doctor informed a London magistrate that brilliantly coloured socks had caused severe "constitutional and local complaint" to several of his patients. In one case, a patient's foot had become so swollen that his boots had to be cut off. Respected chemist, William Crookes, offered to identify the poison if doctors would send him samples of the deadly socks. The story of how he solved the mystery gives this book its title and forms the basis of the first chapter. Written by a respected science historian and established author, this collection of essays contains 42 tales of chemists and their discoveries from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Other topics covered include: the quirky beliefs of American philanthropist, George Hodgkins; the development of the chemical laboratory since the 1830s, and the career of C.P. Snow before he became a novelist. Its broad coverage and modern approach makes it of interest to chemists, teachers, historians and laypeople with an interest in science. Written with a light style and presented in a series of unconnected vignettes the book is easy to dip into at leisure.

Book content

  • Preface
  • Part 1: Chemical Futures
  • 1. The Case of the Poisonous Socks
  • 2. Taste, Smell and Flavour
  • 3. Tales of Hofmann
  • 4. Liebig on Toast
  • 5. The Future of Research at the Royal Institution (London) and the Smithsonian Institution (Washington)
  • 6. The Future of Chemistry in 1901
  • 7. The Alchemical Society 1912-1915
  • Part 2: Organizing Chemistry
  • 8. Putting the "S" into the "Three R's"
  • 9. The London Chemical Society
  • 10. The State of Chemistry in Britain in 1846
  • 11. The Laboratory Before and After Liebig
  • 12. The Chemical Origins of Practical Physics
  • 13. Chemical Algebra
  • 14. The B Club
  • 15. Chemistry By Discovery in a Phrase
  • Part 3: A Cluster of Chemists
  • 16. Amedeo Avogadro
  • 17. Creating a Path through the Dark Forest of Organic Chemistry
  • 18. August KekulĂ© (1829-96): Theoretical Chemist
  • 19. The Don Quixote of Chemistry: Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie (1817-1880)
  • 20. The Epistle of Henry the Chemist
  • 21. He Knew He Was Right - Fritz Haber
  • 22. J. R. Partington (1886-1965): Physical Chemistry in Deed and Word
  • 23. Henry Crookes, Founder of Crookes Laboratories
  • 24. A Life of Magic Chemistry
  • Part 4: Women in Alchemy and Chemistry
  • 25. Women in Alchemy
  • 26. Teaching Chemistry to Women
  • 27. Musical Affinities
  • 28. Edith Hilda Usherwood (1898-1988) and the Ingold Partnership
  • Part 5: Chemical Books and Journal
  • 29. The Fate of Eponymous Chemical Journals
  • 30. The Lamp of Learning
  • 31. "The Greatest Work which England has ever Produced": Henry Watts and the Dictionary of Chemistry
  • 32. Chemistry in the Aquarium
  • 33. Insurance Chemistry
  • 34. Math for Chemists
  • 35. The Chemistry of Pottery
  • 36. Baker's Dozen
  • Part 6: Lost to Chemistry
  • 37. They Also Ran
  • 38. Who Was Crookes's Musician-Chemist?
  • 39. The Chemist from Hanwell Asylum
  • 40. George Du Maurier (1834-96)
  • 41. Sir Stafford Cripps
  • 42. C. P. Snow as a Physical Chemist
  • Sources, Acknowledgements and Further Reading
  • Index

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This book contains 362 pages.

Publication details

Print publication date
12 Sep 2011
Copyright year
Print ISBN
ePub eISBN

Author information

William H. Brock is a retired Professor of the History of Science. He read Chemistry at UCL before studying the History of Science at the University of Leicester where he later became a lecturer then a professor. He has published many papers and books including The Fontana History of Chemistry.