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Molecules at an Exhibition: Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday Life
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 1998
Molecules might seem an unlikely topic for a popular work, but the author is one of those rare teachers who can breathe life into the most unpromising subject. This work is a guided tour through some of the most interesting materials on earth - or perhaps this is Emsley's art.
He has organized his subjects thematically in broad areas such as health, transport, and the environment, with eight galleries of a dozen portraits each. The history of each is traced, with information on its structure, origin, and its role in our world. Some substances, such as selenium, prove unexpectedly vital. Others, such as Sarin, the terrorists' nerve gas, began innocuously enough but have been adopted for evil purposes. Still others hold the key to the secret of chocolate, how Teflon sticks to pans, and possibly a clean, renewable fuel for the future. All are interesting.
The alchemy is Emsley's transmutation of chemistry into entertaining instruction.
(The "score" rating is an ineradicable feature of the page. This reviewer does not "score" books.)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2005
In my opinion, John Emsley is a fantastic writer. I have thoroughly enjoyed this read.
Anyone with a general interest in chemistry or even just science would enjoy this book; it is full of interesting facts.
A vast knowledge of chemistry is not needed, I am merely an A-level chemist myself!!
Read it and I hope you love it half as much as I have.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2000
The title of this book could make it seem like a complicated, very technical book. However, within the first few pages, it is evident that this is not the case. The way it is written means that even complicated terms are thoroughly explained, and even those with next to no chemical knowledge can clearly understand and enjoy this book. Fantastic!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a WONDERFUL book (thankyou to Amazon reviewer Mike who alerted me to Emsley) and I shall certainly be buying more Emsleys - Nature's Building Blocks is already on the waiting to be read pile.

We have here, a serious chemist, university lecturer in chemistry for 25 years, amongst other credits, who is also that wonderful thing A WRITER. Someone with knowledge, someone who can make that knowledge fun, fascinating, accessible - but not offensively `for dummies' for those of us who are interested in the subject but lack the will or the skill to plough through earnest, dry and dustily academic tomes on the subject. The overall flavour is of someone talking you through juicily fascinating pieces of chemical gossip!

Emsley cleverly arranges the chemistry he 'exhibits' into different galleries, and pretends to be a tour guide walking us through the rooms. An informative and entertaining tour guide. So we have, for example, a gallery devoted to metals which are essential for the body's health such as calcium, copper, tin etc. In each 'gallery' he explores a range of uses of each material.Other 'galleries' molecules that are malevolent (poisons), molecules in the home - surfectants, disinfectants etc, molecules 'that stalk the earth' for example, air, water - each gallery is fascinating!

Curiously, he doesn't come across as being particularly environmentally conscious, passing without undue emotion such worrying pieces of information as `known reserves of tin will last only about 30 years at the current rate of consumption' `exploitable reserves of copper are expected to last for only another 50 years' And for anyone who thinks, well, that's still ages away, this book was published in 1998. There has been no 'revised edition' Yes. Time to knock 13 years off those estimates. Recycle those cans!!

I could wish at times that he gave detailed footnotes/references to sources, as there is some information which I take issue with - HRT, osteoporosis protection vs associated risks of long term prescription - Emsley seemed a little unaware or certainly doesn't CITE his evidence which made him come down on the side of HRT rather than the other side; the 'other side' were vindicated as a result of the 2004 'nurses longtitudinal study' which changed prescription protocols.

I was also delighted to find information which explained one possible reason for certain essential oils having positive uplifting and calming effects and being seen as euphorics - Melatonin, which is a neurochemical linked with the sleep response, is produced from serotonin, which is derived from the amino acid tryptophan - found in bananas, and possibly responsible for the `old wives (often a lot of truth in these) tale' that eating a banana at bedtime can help you sleep better. All these naturally occurring chemical building blocks are derived from a simpler molecule, indole which is found in measurable quantity in jasmine and also neroli

Mainly this book has left me equally balanced in despair at our ability to think long term, but also, with HUGE delight in the ingenuity and inventiveness of our species.

I chuckled at Emsley's account of the invention of celluloid 'The story of celluloid began in 1845 when the Swiss German chemist Christian Schonbein reacted cotton with a mixture of concentrated sulphuric acid and nitric acid' Well, when was the last time YOU woke up and thought 'It's a nice day today, what shall I do?? Well I wonder what would happen if I took that old shirt of mine and poured some concentrated sulphuric and nitric acid on it'

Yes, of course I know scientific research and invention isn't like that. Well not COMPLETELY like that. But allow the non-scientists of us to dream a little, and enjoy the fantasy!

I'm just off to find an old blouse and see what I can pour on it.................
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2007
Have you ever wondered about the chemistry behind everyday materials like salt, fuels, caffeine or medicine? This book takes a bunch of molecules familiar to most people, either from their everyday life or from news headlines and explores them from a chemist's point of view.

The result is an intriguing book, written in an enthusiastic and friendly style. It doesn't take much understanding of chemistry to follow Emsley and he offers interesting perspectives to everyday materials. Molecules at an Exhibition is a good and entertaining way to increase one's knowledge on chemistry. (Review based on the Finnish translation.)
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on 23 January 2011
I received this as a gift, and I must say I really did enjoy it. The way the author divides up interesting molecules and compounds into smaller "exhibits" which have a common theme on how they impact us and our lives. The book is very fascinating and interesting, and the author has written the book to make it accessible to all. Saying that though, it does go into some details for those interested. I admit that as a student of science, I did not find this book patronising, just informative. Although there are some glaring scientific errors which should have been picked up on through reading the drafts, however, I did learn a lot, particularly in areas I am not studying.

I would recommmend this to anyone with an interest in science, as its very wide ranging in content.
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on 11 December 2013
I have to confess that after reading his first brilliant book 'Natures Building Blocks' that i did not envisage that he could have matched it.
This is a different (and highly practical) review of chemicals and substances that had me transfixed...I am only part way through the book but I can see that it is a works well at many levels. He is a formidable authority with intense background knowledge. A real pleasure in fact .
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on 15 August 2011
This is a good book for those who know a reasonable amount about molecular structure ( probably A level standard). It deals with the chemistry and background to a large range of common substances both useful and harmful. Each compound is discussed succinctly and the writing is accessible. It may set you up for answering questions on QI, as it is QI - I really enjoyed it.
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on 12 November 2012
This books shows how chemisty is in all aspects of modern life and how we take all the painstaking work of Chemists often for granted. A little out of date but still facilating. A good read and easy to read in small chunks.
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on 10 November 2012
Just a good book introducing you to a wide range of chemicals and their uses to society and yourself! You don't need much previous knowledge to understand this book and can thus be read by anyone.
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