Lust and love. Is it more than chemistry?

Lust and love.  Is it more than chemistry?

G Frob?se and R Frob?se (translated by Michael Gross) 

Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry | 2006 | 212pp | ?24.95 (HB) | ISBN 9780854048670 

Reviewed by Tristram Wyatt

Love and lust are the ever interesting topics - for chemists and non-chemists alike. This popular science book, translated from a German book published in 2004, explores the chemistry behind the physiological and psychological processes we experience around sex and desire.  

The authors, wife and husband writing as a joint project, use the device of two imaginary lovers to look at the chemistry involved as ’Bianca’ and ’Michael’ catch up after a separation, become aroused, and remember falling in love. It’s a good idea but hard to carry off. There is lots of information, some of which is entertainingly presented, but translating humour across culture and languages must be as hard as translating poetry - and I am not sure it works.  

The book uses a journalistic style, like New Scientist, sometimes quoting particular scientists. Other parts of the book fall between being a textbook and a popular book.  

I found much in the book to interest me, particularly the section on the hormones oxytocin and dopamine. However, the chapters on human pheromones, closest to my area of expertise, disappointed. For example, the putative but controversial ’copulins’ are presented without the background that has led many scientists to be sceptical of them. The further reading for the book is a confused mixture of popular books and detailed journal articles along with some press releases.  

I enjoyed the book most where I knew least, so I hope that the other parts are more balanced and better researched. The book is useful as a source of chemical anecdotes on the theme of love and human sex but there is still room for a book on the chemistry of love. Perhaps for next Valentine’s day?