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Psst!…have you heard……..Chemical Gossip and Scandal!

MoleculesThis is a WONDERFUL book and I shall certainly be buying more Emsleys.

We have here, a serious chemist, university lecturer in chemistry for 25 years, amongst other credits, who is also that wonderful thing A WRITER. Someone with knowledge, someone who can make that knowledge fun, fascinating, accessible – but not offensively `for dummies’ for those of us who are interested in the subject but lack the will or the skill to plough through earnest, dry and dustily academic tomes on the subject. The overall flavour is of someone talking you through juicily fascinating pieces of chemical gossip!

Emsley cleverly arranges the chemistry he john_emsley‘exhibits’ into different galleries, and pretends to be a tour guide walking us through the rooms. An informative and entertaining tour guide. So we have, for example, a gallery devoted to metals which are essential for the body’s health such as calcium, copper, tin etc. In each ‘gallery’ he explores a range of uses of each material.Other ‘galleries’ molecules that are malevolent (poisons), molecules in the home – surfectants, disinfectants etc, molecules ‘that stalk the earth’ for example, air, water – each gallery is fascinating!

Curiously, he doesn’t come across as being particularly environmentally conscious, passing without undue emotion such worrying pieces of information as `known reserves of tin will last only about 30 years at the current rate of consumption’ `exploitable reserves of copper are expected to last for only another 50 years’ And for anyone who thinks, well, that’s still ages away, this book was published in 1998. There has been no ‘revised edition’ Yes. Time to knock 13 years off those estimates. Recycle those cans!!


I could wish at times that he gave detailed footnotes/references to sources, as there is some information which I take issue with – HRT, osteoporosis protection vs associated risks of long term prescription – Emsley seemed a little unaware or certainly doesn’t CITE his evidence which made him come down on the side of HRT rather than the other side; the ‘other side’ were vindicated as a result of the 2004 ‘nurses longtitudinal study’ which changed prescription protocols.

I was also delighted to find information which explained one possible reason for certain Bananasessential oils having positive uplifting and calming effects and being seen as euphorics – Melatonin, which is a neurochemical linked with the sleep response, is produced from serotonin, which is derived from the amino acid tryptophan – found in bananas, and possibly responsible for the `old wives (often a lot of truth in these) tale’ that eating a banana at bedtime can help you sleep better. All these naturally occurring chemical building blocks are derived from a simpler molecule, indole which is found in measurable quantity in jasmine and also neroli

Mainly this book has left me equally balanced in despair at our ability to think long term, but also, with HUGE delight in the ingenuity and inventiveness of our species.

I chuckled at Emsley’s account of the invention of celluloid ‘The story of celluloid began in 1845 when the Swiss German chemist Christian Schonbein reacted cotton with a mixture of concentrated sulphuric acid and nitric acid’ Well, when was the last time YOU woke up and thought ‘It’s a nice day today, what shall I do?? Well I wonder what would happen if I took that old shirt of mine and poured some concentrated sulphuric and nitric acid on it’

Forget Eisenstein - give that Oscar to Schonbein!

                   Forget Eisenstein – give that Oscar to Schonbein!

Yes, of course I know scientific research and invention isn’t like that. Well not COMPLETELY like that. But allow the non-scientists of us to dream a little, and enjoy the fantasy!

I’m just off to find an old blouse and see what I can pour on it…………….


Molecules At An Exhibition Amazon UK
Molecules At An Exhibition Amazon USA