History Of G. N. Lewis | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 45 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: November 10, 2008

History Of G. N. Lewis

Department: Letters

While I enjoyed Sam Kean’s review of Patrick Coffey’s magnificent history of 20th-century physical chemistry, “Cathedrals of Science,” I was disappointed that Kean highlighted the discredited view that G. N. Lewis committed suicide (C&EN, Oct. 6, page 54). Although Coffey raises the possibility of a suicide, stating that no autopsy of Lewis was ever done, he reaches the correct conclusion that Lewis died of natural causes.

Edward S. (Ted) Lewis wrote a biography of his father, “A Biography of Distinguished Scientist Gilbert Newton Lewis” (Edward Mellen Press, 1998). In that biography Lewis says in two places (pages 43 and 82) that an autopsy was carried out, with the final conclusion that his father died of a heart attack. It is surprising that Coffey was unaware of this fact, as he cites Ted Lewis’ biography and a 2005 interview with Lewis. Nevertheless, that error aside, Coffey has written an extremely fine book that should be of interest to everyone interested in the history of physical chemistry.

E. Thomas Strom

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