Molecules by Theodore Gray

thBook – 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!

Samsara (2011)

SamsaraMovie – If you are in the mood for something different, or want to do a bit of armchair traveling via stunning visuals from distant locations, Samsara may interest you. It is a movie that is experienced rather than simply watched because of the impact of the graphic imagery of landscapes and human culture that are presented without a defined context. Filmed over four years, the images were photographed entirely in 70mm and transferred to 4K digital projection format. I’ve read recommendations for seeing this film on as large a screen as possible because of the splendid visuals, and I completely agree. Amazing real-time and time-lapse images that are as diverse as natural landscapes, spiritual sites, and industrial settings are accompanied only by ambient sound and music, and no dialog accompanies the film. This enriching film alternates between soothing meditative scenes of aesthetic grace and thought-provoking, slightly disturbing, scenes evoking social commentary. Samsara follows in the footsteps of two award-winning predecessors Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi (which was accompanied by the music of Philip Glass).