9780192803177 / 0192803174

Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules


Publisher:Oxford University Press, USA



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About the book:

"Molecules", Philip Ball writes in Stories of the Invisible, "are the smallest units of meaning in chemistry", the words, if you will, made up of atomic letters. In this lively essay, full of such useful metaphors, Ball shares his longstanding fascination with the unseen world once again, explaining some of the issues that guide modern biochemistry.

Consider a sheep, Ball offers, a congeries of "millions of little bits of sheepness". That animal is a blend of molecules, tens of thousands of varieties of them, many of them found in the grass, sky and water that make up the sheep's environment, many of them shared with other animals and humans. It has been the task of modern chemistry to dissect matter, to tease out underlying structures and commonalities--and, Ball adds, to learn how to make of its constituent elements things that do things, "such as cure viral infections or store information or hold bridges together". How chemistry has done so, making body armour of spider silk and modelling computer networks on "molecular logic", drives Ball's discursive, entertaining, and eminently practical survey.

A trustworthy explainer of scientific matters to lay readers, Ball writes with clarity and grace--and the more difficult the concept, it seems, the better. --Gregory McNamee

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