Chemistry for Breakfast: The Amazing Science of Everyday Life

Greystone. Apr. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9781771647489. $24.95. SCI
Nguyen-Kim, host of popular science videos on YouTube and German television, makes chemistry less intimidating by explaining how it is all around us. The book takes readers chronologically through the substances and chemical reactions they might encounter over the course of a typical day: melatonin and cortisol levels that change as we wake; Teflon that helps our eggs slide off the pan; and fluoride in our toothpaste. This organizing principle soon fades to the background though, and topics of physical, biological, organic, and inorganic chemistry are eventually addressed in a fairly arbitrary order. In addition to demystifying scientific terminology and describing basic principles through analogies and simple illustrations, Nguyen-Kim debunks common anti-science myths like “natural” ingredients being better for you, and describes how peer-reviewed scientific research can be misrepresented through simplification in the media. The style is casual and familiar, but personal anecdotes interspersed throughout the narrative feel contrived—one is never sure whether the secondary characters in these anecdotes are actual people or were invented to create interest and drama.
VERDICT Intellectually curious non-scientists who can’t watch Nguyen-Kim’s explainer videos in their original German and who may find a textbook approach daunting should enjoy this quick tour of everyday chemistry.
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