It’s Elemental: The Hidden Chemistry in Everything

Park Row. Jul. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780778389422. $27.99. SCI
Biberdorf (chemistry, Univ. of Texas) follows her middle-grade “Kate the Chemist” fiction series with this pop science book that brings her enthusiasm for chemistry to an adult audience, with age-appropriate topics and language. The first chapters provide an overview of basics (atoms, molecules, phases of matter, chemical reactions) and can serve as a refresher of high school and college chemistry courses. Later chapters are loosely organized around the chemistry of everyday life, much like Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim’s Chemistry for Breakfast, and demystify everything from cosmetics to cooking to cleansers. Biberdorf’s tone is appropriately casual, and her approach aims to inspire excitement for understanding the chemistry that powers our bodies and modern society, rather than overly simplifying concepts to avoid intimidating the reader. The author’s enthusiasm and efforts to make chemistry more accessible to popular science readers shine throughout. There is a short glossary to use as a reference when reading the later chapters, but the link between the fundamentals in the introductory chapters and the later chapters’ specific examples is not always obvious or direct, especially when biochemistry is involved.
VERDICT A clear and interesting chemistry book for the non-scientist seeking to understand their world just a little bit more.
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