A century and a half ago the pioneering physicist and chemist Michael Faraday delivered a celebrated series of lectures that attempted to explain the inner workings of matter through the chemical history of a candle. "There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy", Faraday told his audience. Now the distinguished chemist P.W. Atkins follows in Faraday's footsteps, using his predecessor's deceptively simple theme to show how far we have come in understanding the remarkable chemical reactions that govern everything from how candles burn to how life functions. While Faraday could say little more than that a chemical reaction changes a substance's appearance and properties, chemists today understand reactions in terms of the rearrangement of atoms and electrons. Atkins - tracing the course of a carbon atom released by a flaming candle - explores the complex forces that operate at the atomic and sub atomic levels to drive these rearrangements.