Book – A confession: I reached adulthood without ever studying chemistry. Not in high school, not in college–nada. Picking up Molecules by Theodore Gray was an attempt to remedy that ignorance to some small degree. For those who may find themselves in a similar situation, those for whom chemistry classes have become a distant memory, or younger readers looking to Molecules as a first introduction, I can recommend it as both an enlightening and enjoyable experience.
Molecules has all the glossy, heavily photo-illustrated appeal of a coffee table book, but with a lot more authorial humor and charm. Mr. Gray is a collector, both of elements (his first book, The Elements, is every bit as good as Molecules) and everything they combine to make, which amounts to… pretty much anything you can think of. Much of the joy of Molecules lies in the jostling of unexpected photo-partners over each double-page spread, like one including a Victorian mourning bracelet, a hornbill’s beak and a bristle of fibers created by a clam. By packing his pages with concrete, real-world examples, Gray provides a learning resource that will be unintimidating even for the science-phobic. The book is also extremely browsable: open to any page and you can jump right in to learn just a little something about the inner workings of dyes, chili peppers, salt, aspirin or Kevlar, to name a few. For a casual read that will teach you something along the way, it’s a fun and beautiful choice. The only downside: a format too big for easy reading in bed!