Retiree's Lunch Update July 2020

Written by  Dr Richard Thwaites, FRACI CChem

Published 7 July 2020

John Casey has a big library;  he owns lots of books;  fortunately he is an avid reader!

On Tuesday June 2nd, he shared with the RACI Retirees’ Group some of his secrets as a reader, reviewer, researcher and raconteur.

John was brought up in the Hunter Valley region of NSW, completed  undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Newcastle, and undertook post-doctoral studies at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich in the UK (which was the setting for the BBC TV series “A Very Peculiar Practice” – one of my favourites).  He worked in industry before moving to a position in academia at Footscray Institute of Technology, which in the fullness of time became Victoria University.  He was originally employed to teach physical and analytical chemistry, but eventually took on teaching pretty well all branches of chemistry.  He took early retirement as Associate Professor and subsequently inter alia became involved with the U3A.  He is the premier book reviewer for “Chemistry in Australia” and is also Secretary and Treasurer of the Society of Chemical Industry Australia Group.

The June Retirees’ virtual lunch was attended by a record number;  people from every State and Territory registered to participate.   It was good to see so many familiar (mostly) smiling faces!

The books John talked about ranged from volumes published so long ago that they even predated our RACI retirees (which made the books look very old indeed) to much more modern titles.

Old books to be read to grandchildren (or great grandchildren) included “Real fairy folks or Fairyland of chemistry:  explorations in the world of atoms” by Lucy Rider Myer (Boston, 1887)  and “The fairy-land of science” by Arabella B Buckley (London, 1882).  They sounded really fascinating, coming from a 19th century perspective.  They are probably still available via the internet.

John mentioned books about the personalities of great scientists, particularly chemists.  These included:  “The basis of everything:  Rutherford, Oliphant and the coming of the atomic bomb” by Andrew Ramsay (Harper Collins, Australia 2019)  - possibly trying to blame any coming nuclear holocaust on two early to mid 20th century Colonials.   Another of John’s favourites is:  “Cathedrals of Science:  the personalities and rivalries that made modern chemistry” by Patrick Coffey, OUP, 2008.  The title is a quotation from the preface to the thermodynamics textbook by G N Lewis and Merle Randall (which itself did not appear to be on John’s list of favourite titles – I wonder why).  The book apparently contains scurrilous scuttlebutt about famous people which John generously described as utterly inspirational revelations.  Another of John’s favourites is:  “Einstein’s dice and Schrodinger’s cat” by Paul Halpern (Basic Books, NY, 2015) which exposes the true personalities of both men behind the façade of respectability.

 In addition to biographical volumes, John referred to several other books about serious contemporary issues, such as food authentication, char, carbon materials derived from biomass, several about polymers and coatings,  a number on energy (sources and storage), and finally books about scientific language, and scientific conspiracies (real and imagined).  John has provided details of these which are available from Alyce in the RACI office.

The Bible says: “Jesus did many other things as well.  If everyone of them were written down I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”  (John 21:25, NIV).   Listening to John Casey, it’s easy to think that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written about science and scientists.  But I think John Casey’s library has room for a good number of them.


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