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Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art and Science of Chemistry

Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art and Science of Chemistry

Roald Hoffmann


Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann’s contributions to chemistry are well known. Less well known, however, is that over a career that spans nearly fifty years, Hoffmann has thought and written extensively about a wide variety of other topics, such as chemistry’s relationship to philosophy, literature, and the arts, including the nature of chemical reasoning, the role of symbolism and writing in science, and the relationship between art and craft and science.


In Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art, and Science of Chemistry, Jeffrey Kovac and Michael Weisberg bring together twenty-eight of Hoffmann’s most important essays. Gathered here are Hoffmann’s most philosophically significant and interesting essays and lectures, many of which are not widely accessible. In essays such as “Why Buy That Theory,” “Nearly Circular Reasoning,” “How Should Chemists Think,” “The Metaphor, Unchained,” “Art in Science,” and “Molecular Beauty,” we find the mature reflections of one of America’s leading scientists. Organized under the general headings of Chemical Reasoning and Explanation, Writing and Communicating, Art and Science, Education, and Ethics, these stimulating essays provide invaluable insight into the teaching and practice of science.

Oxford University Press

Roald Hoffmann

According to his own website (, Roald Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Złoczów, Poland. Having survived World War II, he came to the U.S. in 1949, and studied Chemistry at Columbia and Harvard Universities (Ph.D. 1962). He has been at Cornell University since 1965, now as the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus. He has received many of the honours of his profession, including the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with Kenichi Fukui).


At Cornell, Hoffmann taught Introductory Chemistry for about half of his time there. Also notable is his outreach to the general public; he was the presenter, for example, of a television course in Chemistry titled “The World of Chemistry,” broadcasted widely since 1990.


As a writer, Hoffmann carved out a path across science, poetry, and philosophy through his numerous essays, five non-fiction books, three plays and seven published poetry collections, including bilingual Spanish-English and Russian-English editions published in Madrid and Moscow.


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