Summer Reading

Summer Reading

Author: ChemistryViews

A summer without chemistry – to prevent this from happening, has selected recommendations from Editors on books related to chemistry and science which are fun to read during a holiday or in your spare time.

The Housekeeper and the Professor
by Yoko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (Translator)

He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem – ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him. And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities – like the Housekeeper’s shoe size – and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.
(suggested by Eva Wille, VP Global Chemistry, Wiley-VCH)

The Organic Chem Lab Survival Manual
by James W. Zubrick

This valuable guide takes organic chemists through the basic techniques of the organic chemistry lab such as interpretation of infrared spectroscopy. The eighth edition has been revised to include updated coverage of NMR Spectroscopy and UV spectroscopy. New questions at the end of chapters reinforce the skills and techniques learned. Emphasis is placed on green chemistry in the lab, focusing on the more environmentally friendly materials that can be used. In addition, updated discussions are included on safety, distillation, gas chromatography, and liquid chromatography. This gives organic chemists the most up-to-date information to enhance their lab skills.
(suggested by Vera Koester,

Why Do Buses Come in Threes?: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life
by Rob Eastaway, Jeremy Wyndham

Why is it better to buy a lottery ticket on a Thursday? Why are showers always too hot or too cold? And what’s the connection between Rob Andrew taking a conversion in rugby and a tourist trying to get the best photograph of Nelson’s Column? These and many other fascinating questions are answered in this entertaining and highly informative book ideal for anyone wanting to remind themselves – or discover for the first time – that math is relevant to almost everything that we do. As explained here, dating, cooking, travelling, gambling and even life-saving are all linked with intriguing mathematical problems. Whether you have a Ph.D. in astrophysics or haven’t touched a math problem since your school days, this book will give you a fresh understanding of the hidden math in the world around you.

(suggested by Sarah Millar,

Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed History

by Penny Le Couteur, Jay Burreson

Though many factors have been proposed to explain the failure of Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign, it has also been linked to something as small as a button, a tin button, the kind that fastened everything from the greatcoats of Napoleon’s officers to the trousers of his foot soldiers. When the temperature drops below 56°F, tin crumbles into powder. Were the soldiers of the Grande Armee fatally weakened by cold because the buttons of their uniforms fell apart? How different our world might be if tin did not disintegrate at low temperature and the French had continued their eastward expansion! This fascinating book tells the stories of seventeen molecules that, like the tin of those buttons, greatly influenced the course of history.

Showing how a change as small as the position of an atom can lead to enormous differences in the properties of a substance, the authors reveal the astonishing chemical connections among seemingly unrelated events. Napoleon’s Buttons offers a novel way to understand how our contemporary world works and how our civilization has been shaped over time.

(suggested by Jennifer O’Donnell, Eur. J. Org. Chem.)

The Aha! Moment: A Scientist’s Take on Creativity
by David Jones

This book is about having ideas and—a much longer haul—making them work. David Jones, best known for his Daedalus column, tells a multitude of stories about creators and their creations, including his own fantastical-seeming contributions to mainstream science such as the unrideable bicycle and chemical gardens in space. His theory of creativity endows each of us with a Random-Ideas Generator, a Censor, and an Observer-Reasoner. Jones applies his theory to a wide range of weird scientific experiments that he has conducted for serious scientific papers, for challenging printed expositions, and for presentations to a TV audience. He even suggests new ones, not yet tried!

Neither dense nor demanding, The Aha! Moment is engrossing, edifying, and scientifically serious; yet it is lightly written and asks lots of silly questions. As Jones shows, it can often pay to take an absurd idea seriously.

(suggested by Richard Threlfall, Asian J. Org. Chem.)

The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain-Language Guide to Toxicology, 3rd Edition
by Patricia Frank, M. Alice Ottoboni

With the advent of serious industrialization in non–Western economies such as China and India, the integrity of our food supply is once again in question and the safety of various consumer products and medicines at risk. Every day, people are exposed to a wide array of chemicals and other potential toxicants—from industrial emissions, the natural environment, drugs, and consumer products. Using broadly accessible language and clear examples, The Dose Makes the Poison explains the basics and practice of toxicology in easy–to–understand language.

This new edition broadens its scope from a heavy focus on industrial chemicals as toxicants to include drugs, food additives, cosmetics, and other types of compounds that people are exposed to daily. Also new to the Third Edition are recent issues–of–the–day such as bisphenol A, secondhand smoke, food contamination, lead in toys, melamine toxicity to children and pets, and drug recalls. Basic principles of how doses and routes of administration alter toxicity, testing paradigms for drugs and chemicals, and newer technology such as nanoparticles are all addressed and explained.

(suggested by Jonathan Rose, Book Dept., John Wiley & Sons)

Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry
by Patrick Coffey

Patrick Coffey describes how chemistry got its modern footing – how thirteen brilliant men and one woman struggled with the laws of the universe and with each other. They wanted to discover how the world worked, but they also wanted credit for making those discoveries, and their personalities often affected how that credit was assigned. Gilbert Lewis, for example, could be reclusive and resentful, and his enmity with Walther Nernst may have cost him the Nobel Prize; Irving Langmuir, gregarious and charming, “rediscovered” Lewis’s theory of the chemical bond and received much of the credit for it. Langmuir’s personality smoothed his path to the Nobel Prize over Lewis.

Coffey deals with moral and societal issues as well, as science was not always fair, and many were excluded. The Nazis pushed Jewish scientists from their posts in the 1930s. Anti-Semitism was also a force in American chemistry, and few women were allowed in; Linus Pauling, for example, used his influence to cut off the funding and block the publications of his rival, Dorothy Wrinch.

Cathedrals of Science paints a colorful portrait of the building of modern chemistry from the late 19th to the mid-20th century.

(suggested by Marisa Spiniello, ChemPlusChem)

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
by Michael Brooks

Science starts to get interesting when things don’t make sense. Even today there are experimental results that the most brilliant scientists can neither explain nor dismiss. In the past, similar anomalies have revolutionised our world: in the sixteenth century, a set of celestial irregularities led Copernicus to realise that the Earth goes around the sun and not the reverse. In 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense Michael Brooks meets thirteen modern-day anomalies that may become tomorrow’s breakthroughs. Is ninety six percent of the universe missing? If no study has ever been able to definitively show that the placebo effect works, why has it become a pillar of medical science? Was the 1977 signal from outer space a transmission from an alien civilization?

Spanning fields from chemistry to cosmology, psychology to physics, Michael Brooks thrillingly captures the excitement and controversy of the scientific unknown.

(suggested by Rachel McGlue, Chem. Eur. J.)

Bad Science
by Ben Goldacre

In this eye-opening book Ben Goldacre takes on the MMR hoax and misleading cosmetics ads, acupuncture and homeopathy, vitamins and mankind’s vexed relationship with all manner of ‘toxins’. Along the way, the self-confessed ‘Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General’ performs a successful detox on a Barbie doll, sees his dead cat become a certified nutritionist, and probes the supposed medical qualifications of ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith.

Full spleen and satire, Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and ultimately alarming journey through the bad science we are fed daily by hacks and quacks.

(suggested by Lois O’Leary, ChemCatChem)

Introduction to Strategies for Organic Synthesis
by Laurie S. Starkey

Organic synthesis is an advanced but important field of organic chemistry, however resources for advanced undergraduates and graduate students moving from introductory organic chemistry courses to organic synthesis research are scarce. Introduction to Strategies for Organic Synthesis is designed to fill this void, teaching practical skills for making logical retrosynthetic disconnections, while reviewing basic organic transformations, reactions, and reactivities.

Including detailed solutions to over 300 problems, worked-through examples and end-of-chapter comprehension problems, this book serves as a stepping stone for students with an introductory knowledge of organic chemistry looking to progress to more advanced synthetic concepts and methodologies.

(suggested by Jonathan Rose, Book Dept., John Wiley & Sons)

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