Friday, March 13, 2009

The Genie in the Bottle by Dr. Joe Schwarcz (4/5 stars)

This is a fun little book that is exactly what the sub-heading on the book says it is: 67 commentaries on the fascinating chemistry of everyday life. I work as a chemist and I did enjoy reading this book.

The book is broken up into 5 main sections. There is a section on Health Matters, Food Matters, Chemistry Everywhere, learning from the past, and Silly stories. The Health Matters and Food Matters are the most organized sections of the book. The mini-stories in the these two sections deal exclusively with health or food. Each section had a collection of short anecdotes. The anecdotes average at 3-4 pages per length with some being shorter and a few being significantly longer.

This book is definitely geared more toward the average joe than to a chemist. That being said, there is enough chemistry addressed to interest your everyday chemist too. I was a bit disappointed that I had heard a lot of these stories before; they are things I've read about in headlines or just have general knowledge of. But for everything I had heard of there were two things I hadn't heard about.

There is a lot of fun miscellaneous information in this book. Depending on how much of that you want to retain this book could be a quick or a slow read. I personally had trouble reading large portions of it at once because it was just so much information to assimilate. Especially in the later sections the anecdotes tend to jump around willy, nilly. You may be reading about how Hydrogen was discovered then, in the next anecdote, you are reading about Silly Putty. I found that I enjoyed the book (and remembered all the fun facts) the best when I read a few anecdotes a day.

The writing style is done very well. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor and there are a lot of cleverly worded passages. This is a chemistry book that will amuse and interest everyone. I personally applaud it for bringing chemistry to the masses. Chemistry is awesome and interesting; and it is wonderful that Schwarcz can make it interesting for everyone. I plan on checking out his additional collections of chemistry anecdotes in the future.

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