In this episode, we’ll tackle Deep Sniff: A History of Poppers and Queer Futures by Adam Zmith. In his first book, Zmith blends historical research with wry observation to tell the story of how amyl nitrites wafted out of the lab and into gay bars, corner shops and bedrooms. Zmith leads readers through the 19th century discovery of nitrites as an angina medication and its 20th century reimagination as a drug for the queer community. But his focus on people and cultural forces means this book goes far beyond a simple history lesson.

We discuss how societal pressures and biases can influence research, and talk to Zmith about the secret pact between governments, manufacturers and users that kept poppers flying under the radar of drug restrictions.

Source: © Royal Society of Chemistry

If you’d like your own copy of Deep Sniff, you can find it on or And if you’d like to find out more about poppers and their strange status in legal limbo, read our explainer.

Next time, we’ll be reading The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science, the new book by Sam Kean, whom many might know as the author of the periodic table book The Disappearing Spoon, which we reviewed way back in 2010. In his new book, Kean tells true stories of what happens when ambition pushes otherwise rational people to cross ethical lines in the name of science.

If you, dear listener, have any thoughts on Deep Sniff or know of a book you would like us to discuss in an upcoming book club, let us know in the comments below or tweet at us @ChemistryWorld.