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San Francisco Chronicle

Philip Ball

Stories of the invisible

Chemistry can be perceived as something of a dull subject, as is seen by the drop in applications to study the subject at university. At the start of 'Stories of the invisible' Ball seems to be trying to improve the image of the subject. If this is his aim then I don't think that he succeeds. There is much of interest in the book, but I would classify it as biochemisty. Ball gives an easy to understand account of the some of the processes of life at the molecular level - how we extract energy from food, how this is used to move our muscles and the like. If you're interested in finding out about this then the book has much to recommend it.

I had envisaged the book as choosing a number of molecules and having a chapter on each of them, enabling each to be looked at in some depth. Instead, when I started reading, I found that Ball tended to devote only a small amount of space to each topic before moving on to the next one. This might be OK for a beginner wanting an overview, but I felt there was little for those who already had some knowledge of the subject. However, the book did improve as it progressed, since as well as examining the processes of life, Ball looks at how scientists are trying to mimic them, and reports on some of the recent work which is being done at the nano-scale.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews