Simon Cotton
CRC Press
2012 | 280pp | £38.99 (HB)
ISBN 9781439807736

Simon Cotton is a recently retired chemistry teacher. He now holds an honorary lectureship at the University of Birmingham, UK, and remains an active researcher, science writer and podcaster.

His latest book is – in his own words – ‘a celebration of molecules and of chemistry’ aimed at school and university students, and their teachers.

It covers key facts and figures for over 200 molecules, including their discovery (or when they were first made, in the case of synthetic compounds), their uses, and their chemical properties and reactivity. The author’s efforts to relate the molecules’ chemistry to real life is one of the strengths of this book – as it will increase both the book’s (and the subject’s) appeal to younger readers. Examples include explaining why you should always drive with the windows open for the first few weeks after purchasing a brand new car, and unveiling the link between the explosive nitroglycerine and Viagra.

My favourite two chapters – although admittedly a little sinister – focus on ‘killer molecules’ – first natural and then synthetic. The existence of poisonous snails was news to me!

Discussing so many molecules in a relatively short book inevitably means that the amount of information on each one is fairly limited. But, a very comprehensive bibliography section allows readers to easily obtain additional information.

Overall, this is an excellent book for dipping in and out of. Simon’s passion for chemistry comes out in the style of his writing, and I believe he will inspire his readers to learn to love the topic too.

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