A flowing narrative
2015 | 384pp | £15.10
We are told that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if you did, The water book’s striking dust jacket accurately symbolises the text it contains – as the subtitle says, this is ‘the extraordinary story of our most ordinary substance’.
Alok Jha’s latest book explores a variety of topics surrounding water, a seemingly simple molecule that is often overlooked by many. The material he presents is broken down into stand-alone chapters – perfect for dipping in and out of so that you’re not completely overwhelmed by how much influence water has had, and continues to have, on every aspect of our lives. Jha explores how a little molecule has shaped our history, our culture and even our political system.
He begins by looking at water’s unusual physical properties – something we often take for granted as scientists. By examining water more closely though, you begin to realise that it behaves in a variety of surprising ways, such as how it expands as it freezes.
Historically, the humble water molecule has been dismissed as both trivial and incomprehensible as it persistently dodges chemical rulings and Jha’s book is peppered with references to the discoveries that enabled us to build our knowledge of it. One of these is Peter Mitchell’s Nobel prize winning idea that water participates in adenosine triphosphate synthesis. These historical snippets are accompanied by the gradual introduction of scientific concepts – perfect for those of us who have largely forgotten our high school knowledge of the water cycle, hydrogen bonds and surface tension.
Those of you already familiar with Alok Jha’s writing won’t be surprised to find a highly readable account of the role water has played in our society that’s as relevant to non-scientists as it is to those with a more in-depth knowledge.
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