Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book review: Molecules, by Theodore Gray

A page of "Molecules", by Theodore Grey
I am not really one for coffee table books (only recently having owned a coffee table, or a living room to have one in in), but I had the recent opportunity to look at a review copy of "Molecules", by software guru and chemical enthusiast Theodore Gray.

The photos (by Nick Mann) in the book are gorgeous. What is really worthwhile is his uniquely curated different sets of objects that he photographed (each representing a particular molecule or class of molecules). Each picture is accompanied by Gray's observations, which range from fun to whimsical to really insightful. Perhaps I am uninformed about the history of a variety of different molecules (indigo, in particular), but I learned a lot. There's a clever section on controversial molecules ("I Hate That Molecule") which include carbon dioxide, azodicarbonamide and thimerosal.

I do have a very minor "chemistry nerd" complaint about the structures in the book. It is difficult for me to see line drawings in anything other than the standard "ACS 1996" syle. As you can see above, the different atoms are individually labeled, including the hydrogens. Each molecule has a purple blur about it, which is supposed to represent the electrons. (I'm actually looking forward to explaining this to my kids.) This is an extremely picayune point and one that should really be ignored.

The book is listed at $30, so that is pretty pricey (according to this cheapskate), but it is really lovely and would make a nice present for a chemist or in particular, children who like science. I do not know lots of older children, but boys and girls from 3 to 6 have flipped through its pages and found that it entertains for at least 10 minutes at a sitting for multiple sittings. As a parent, that's high praise indeed.

(Next week: a review of the Molecules app.) 

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