Today’s book takes a slightly different tack than the others I’ve reviewed recently. In Ainissa Ramirez’s The Alchemy Of Us, the chemical elements don’t take center stage. In fact, it’s not exactly a book about chemistry at all. In the introduction, she explains that this is a book about materials science — a discipline that, like her home state of New Jersey, is wedged between two more popular entities (physics and chemistry, in this case), and doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
Rather than writing biographies of individual atoms, Ramirez describes how various inventions — like the telegraph, railroad, and photograph — inspired big changes in society. These might be my favorite kind of stories: Meandering, surprising, and something that makes me want to learn more.
Several of these stories will be familiar to listeners of The Episodic Table Of Elements. For instance, various episodes of this podcast have explored our changing perceptions of time, how glassware sparked a scientific revolution, and how simple switches became complex computer chips. However, the paths Ramirez takes are her own, and there’s plenty of new information to be found in here. She also writes in a style that brings the characters involved closer than the usual arms-length of a more formal text. It all amounts to a book that’s hard to put down.
This is the last of the book reviews for the time being. Next week, we return to our regular schedule, setting out to learn all about erbium. I’m grateful for your patience while I took a much needed break, and I’m excited to get back into the swing of things!
In the meantime, buy The Alchemy Of Us by Ainissa Ramirez: