A chemistry professor teaches “the stories your chemistry teachers wouldn’t tell you” through short, accessible lessons on drugs, deadly household items, mysteries of ordinary objects, and more.
Debut author Farmer (Chemistry/Sonoma State Univ.) devoted his life to chemistry after a high school friend on LSD jumped in front of a car and was killed instantly. He was driven by a quest to better understand hallucinogens and their effect on the brain, but he also wanted answers to other questions that haunted his childhood. When Farmer became a chemistry instructor, he noticed that he would regularly stump his classroom when he asked a question that provides the title of a subsection here: “What Substance is Used to Make 80% of All Pharmaceuticals?” (The answer: petroleum.) His shock regarding how little the general public knows about chemistry led him to write this book. In it, he does go into drug-related topics, such as how methamphetamines act as a stimulant, but also addresses much more than just chemical extremes. The first chapter introduces basic chemistry concepts, such as atoms, molecules, and neurotransmitters. The following chapters each cover an overarching theme, such as “The Poisons in Everyday Things,” which breaks down into specific lessons: “How Can Visine Kill You?” “Death by BENGAY,” “Deadly Helium Balloons,” and others, and ends with a list of materials for further reading. Each lesson is no more than a few pages long and successfully shows how relevant chemistry is in everyday life. In the seventh chapter, “Why Junior Mints Are Shiny and Other Weird Facts about Your Food,” Farmer explains why it’s hard to remove gum from the soles of shoes by describing what causes strong intermolecular forces. The lessons include images of molecular structures; others include funny cartoons, such as an elephant balancing on a pencil to represent graphene’s strength. The short sections and accessible language will keep readers’ attention, and the frequent addition of molecular structures could be a useful addition to chemistry courses.
An engaging chemistry lesson that also serves as an encyclopedia to understanding the world around us.