John Dalton and the Development of Atomic Theory
By Roberta Baxter
(Morgan Reynolds, 2013, Greensboro, North Carolina, $28.95)
Generations of chemists – and chemistry students – owe their efforts to John Dalton. His atomic theory changed the way scientists understood the nature of matter. Born to a humble Quaker family in the English Lakes District in the 1760’s, unable to attend university, Dalton nonetheless taught secondary school and college-level science. He conducted chemical experiments and meteorological research. Intellectually omnivorous, Dalton also studied the causes of color blindness, a condition he himself had, and wrote a grammatical text.
In John Dalton and the Development of Atomic Theory, Roberta Baxter examines Dalton’s contributions to science for young adult readers. She clearly presents his theories and those of his contemporaries; in addition, she discusses how Dalton’s ideas fit into the framework of today’s scientific knowledge. Readers with a strong interest in chemistry will particularly relish this opportunity to explore scientific history. Baxter also explores Dalton’s Quaker beliefs, the era’s educational system, and the Industrial Revolution that swept the North of England during his lifetime. Because relatively little is known of Dalton’s personal life, the narrative does not always seamlessly integrate scientific, historical and human information. However, Baxter includes enough anecdotes so that Dalton emerges as a dedicated, humble, and kind man, one more interested in advancing knowledge than his own status.
“Dalton showed that a person didn’t have to attend the most prestigious college or have the best family connections to make contributions in the field of science,” Baxter writes. John Dalton and the Development of Atomic Theory reminds young adults that science isn’t merely an academic discipline, a class to be passed or even aced for college admission, but a way of asking questions about the world around them.
-Dorothy A. Dahm