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This is a book about discovery and disaster, exploitation and invention, warfare and science – and the relationship between human beings and the chemical elements that make up our planet. Lars Ohrstrom introduces us to a variety of elements from S to Pb through tales of ordinary and extraordinary people from around the globe. We meet African dictators controlling vital supplies of uranium; eighteenth-century explorers searching out sources of precious metals; industrial spies stealing the secrets of steel-making. We find out why the Hindenburg airship was tragically filled with hydrogen, not helium; why nail-varnish remover played a key part in World War I; and the real story behind the legend of tin buttons and the downfall of Napoleon. In each chapter, we find out about the distinctive properties of each element and the concepts and principles that have enabled scientists to put it to practical use. These are the fascinating (and sometimes terrifying) stories of chemistry in action.
Preamble: The Periodic Table and the Da Vinci Code
1: Mr Khama is coming to dinner
2: From bitterfield with love
3: The curious incident of the dog in the airship
4: The spy and the saracens secret
5: Biopiracy the curse of the nutmeg
6: Death at number 29
7: Blue blooded stones and the prisoner in the crystal cage
8: Diamonds are forever and zirconium is for submarines
9: Graphite valley: IT in the 18th century Lake District
10: The Emperor and Miss Smilla
11: Rendezvous on the high plateau
12: The last alchemist in Paris
13: Pardon my French: Captain Haddock and the sufferings of the Savoyards
14: Two brilliant careers
15: War and vanity
16: When state security was a stinking business
17: Bonapartes bursting buttons: a thin story
18: I told you so, said Marcus Vitruvirus Pollio
19: A shiny surface and a tainted past
20: The actress and the spin-doctor
21: Of pea-soup, dangers of coffee in the morning, and the test of Mr Marsh
22: To take back the future
Lars Öhrström is a Swedish inorganic chemist who has also worked in France, Botswana, Switzerland, and the USA. He was educated at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and currently he is professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. At Chalmers he has devoted much time to teaching and curriculum development for the first year chemistry courses and recently he has made a number of popular science podcasts for Chemistry World magazine. His main research interest is in Metal-Organic Frameworks, which are new types of potentially porous materials with budding technological applications, especially in green and sustainable chemical manufacturing.
"A first-rate example of critical thinking, research, and scientific journalism. Inspiring [...] witty [...] and on a more serious side of things, [it] has intellectual muscle."
– Chemistry International
"the stories are fascinating"
– Tim Radford, Guardian: Science Bookclub
"There is the vivid and colorful – yes, catchy – style of the author, a born storyteller [...] the author succeeds admirably in showing that chemistry is an essential part of our lives [...] [a] highly recommendable book"
"Chemistry is a messy business. Öhrström [...] writes in English, and very well indeed, to remind us that physical chemistry is everywhere and can explain almost every material thing."
– Tim Radford, The Guardian
"[A] charming mish mash of a primer."
– Barbara Kiser, Nature
"This excellent book will provide an entertaining read to all chemists and is also just the kind of text to place in the hands of school students."
– Chemistry World
"This book can only heighten any appreciation of chemistry and the physical world."
– The Good Book Guide