Take Ten: Got Chemistry?

Our Summer Reading theme this year involves “Literary Elements” so we’ve taken up the cause literally. Our contest this year includes the Periodic Table of Elements, and asks participants to mix up their own good time. And, of course, you can say that every book blends literary elements in order to come up with a fascinating mix – sometimes explosive – to get readers interested.

If you’re looking for a good book this summer, there are some compelling science books relating to the field of chemistry; books that don’t require readers to have a degree merely to crack them open. The following are ten popular science chemistry reads that are sure to stir up your imagination – just add an iced drink and a comfy chair.

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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements – Sam Kean

  • The periodic table of the elements is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, obsession, and betrayal. These tales follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold, and all the elements in the table as they play out their parts in human history.

The Elements: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table – Tom Jackson

  • Covering one hundred scientific breakthroughs, presents a history of the periodic table, traces the discovery of the elements, discusses the life and works of the great chemists, and poses questions alongside developments in culture, world events, and invention.

The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things – Cathy Cobb

  • This text introduces lay readers to the principles of chemistry. Hands-on demonstrations (such as a bottle rocket assembled from common household objects) and quotations from popular literature show how chemistry and everyday life intertwine.

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History – Penny Le Couteur

  • Describes seventeen chemical compounds in spices, textile fibers, dyes, explosives, medicines, and other substances–including the drugs that account for witches flying on broomsticks–and how they affect civilization.

Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc – Hugh Aldersley-Williams

  • An energetic and wide-ranging book of discovery and discoverers, of exploitation and celebration, and of superstition and science, all in search of the ways the chemical elements are woven into our culture, history, and language.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York – Deborah Blum

  • Chronicles the story of New York City’s first forensic scientists to describe Jazz Age poisoning cases, including a family’s inexplicable balding, Barnum and Bailey’s Blue Man, and the crumbling bones of factory workers.

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World – Mark Miodownik

  • With clarity and humor, world-leading materials scientist Mark Miodownik answers all the questions you’ve ever had about your pens, spoons, and razor blades, while also introducing a whole world full of materials you’ve never even heard of. Stuff Matters tells enthralling stories that explain the science and history of materials.

The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus – John Emsley

  • Science writer and chemist Emsley (Cambridge U. and London U.) describes how the element was discovered by alchemists in the 1600s, was exploited by industrialists of the 19th century, and by combatants in the 20th.

The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People – Neil Shubin

  • Traces the unique qualities of the human species to astronomical events that occurred billions of years ago, revealing how the molecular development of human life can be linked to the evolution of the cosmos.

What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained – Robert L. Wolke

  • The chemistry professor columnist for the Washington Post‘s “Food 101” presents explanations of kitchen mysteries involving food types, temperature, cooking equipment, and food myths.

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