Synopses & Reviews
What is the secret of shower cleaners? How does the dangerous explosive nitroglycerin ward off heart attacks? And what medicines, usually prescribed for other purposes, are said to produce the ultimate orgasm?
In Vanity, Vitality, and Virility, award-winning science writer John Emsley offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of 30 chemicals that we use everyday to make ourselves more beautiful, to improve our diet and sexual pleasure, to kill germs, and to ward off depression and other mental illnesses. Emsley looks at common compounds such as alpha-hydroxy acids, vitamin C, chlorine bleach, and Prozac, telling us if they work, how they work, and how they were discovered. Indeed, the book is packed with useful information and easy-to-digest science, and Emsley relates it all with a light touch that delights in the odd fact or amusing anecdote. Thus we learn of the "vitamin C tights" sold in Japan to make your legs more beautiful (they don't work) and of the whimsical Hungarian scientist who first isolated vitamin C and wanted to name it "godnose"--because he had no idea what the compound was. We discover that Cleopatra was right to bath in milk, which is filled with alpha-hydroxy acids. And we read about the unforgettable British researcher who demonstrated a powerful new drug for male erections at a Las Vegas convention--injecting himself with the compound and then "displaying the results" to a stunned lecture hall.
As with the much-loved Nature's Building Blocks, in John Emsley's hands, chemistry comes alive. Anyone curious about the ingredients in the products we use, and everyone fascinated with science, will be enthralled by this book.
"You are standing in the supermarket holding two bottles of sunscreen. One claims to have titanium dioxide, the other something called OMC. What are these mysterious chemicals and which works better? Enter Emsley, Cambridge University science writer in residence, who demystifies the benefits of chemistry from a catalogue of over 30 chemicals that we encounter every day. His subjects jump from lipstick and sunscreen to trans-fats and vitamin C, bleach, Prozac, baby diapers and V of the title). Emsley includes the sources and uses of all the chemicals, which can read like encyclopedia entries, as well as histories of each chemical's discovery and occasional misuses. To this he adds a few morality tales of chemical witch-hunts in the media, such as the unsubstantiated accusation that aluminum causes Alzheimer's. The book can be read cover to cover or used as a reference, but either way, even chemists will find out some surprising facts, such as that scurvy was for a time treated with sulfuric acid. The more complicated chemistry is relegated to a glossary, but unexplained scientific terms pop up with regularity in the text. Emsley gets on his soapbox in the postscript, asking for a little gratitude for the much maligned chemical industry, whose benefits he has already demonstrated. Given the occasional detours into technical language, however, his audience may be predominantly the chemically inclined. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Emsley knows his everyday chemicals like a farmer knows his sheep.... From depression to cleaning your bathroom, Alzheimer's disease to chewing gum, he discusses the common compounds used in everyday products and remedies and assesses how, why and whether they work."--Financial Times
"Emsley clearly loves his subject, and writes in a lively style that enhances the fascinating tales he tells, like how castor oil--the object of great disdain in another form--became an essential ingredient in lipstick, or how Viagra's future may include being sold in the form of chewing gum."--Gregory Mott, Washington Post
"His subjects jump from lipstick and sunscreen to trans-fats and vitamin C, bleach, Prozac, baby diapers and Viagra (hence the third V of the title).... The book can be read cover to cover or used as a reference, but either way, even chemists will find out some surprising facts."--Publishers Weekly
"Emsley is a champion of the many ways chemicals ease our lives, and in the book's final pages he says he hopes to dispel the 'chemiphobia' of those who think that anything chemical must be bad."--Science News
"In this engaging work, Emsley succeeds on two major points: he provides the chemistry background that most consumers lack to analyze the advertising and media claims behind everyday products, foods, and medical treatments; and he makes a sound case against the rampant 'chemiphobia' that equates the word chemical with artificial, or worse, toxic."--Library Journal
"Emsley explores the science that goes into meeting our needs and satisfying our desires. From lipstick to love potions, vitamins to Viagra, he explains facts and explodes myths. Clever chemistry is everywhere: fighting germs in kitchens and bathrooms, sucking up what babies deposit in their diapers, perking people up when they feel down and even giving teenagers something to chew on. Like it or not, we all use the fruits of the chemical industry and, with Emsley's help, we can be better informed about them and know how to respond to the more outlandish scare stories about 'chemicals'."--Peter Budd, New Scientist
'Vanity, Vitality, and Virility' is a portrait gallery of chemicals involved in our everyday life, from Viagra and selenium to whispering asphalt, nappies, and chewing gum. It explains the science behind many products and is by the author of 'The Consumer's Good Chemical Guide', 'Molecules at an Exhibition', and 'Nature's Building Blocks'.
Have you ever wondered whether wrinkles can be smoothed away, how lipstick can shimmer, why diamonds are a girl's best friend, how best to kill germs, and why roads are getting less noisy? Vanity, Vitality, and Virility will give you answers to all of these questions, and many more besides.
In Vanity, Vitality, and Virility, acclaimed popular-science writer John Emsley explans the nautre and behaviour of around 40 ingredients that play important roles in every aspect of modern living: there are chapters on cosmetics, food, sex, hygiene, depression, and on four unexpected ways in which modern products improve our lives. So if you have ever asked yourself whether cosmetics can deliver what they promise, whether certain spreads really can reduce cholesterol, whether nitrates in water are a cause of cancer, whether your sex life can be improved, and whether Prozac is as safe as they say, dive into Vanity, Vitality, and Virility and discover things you always wanted to know: but didn't know who to ask!
About the Author
is Science Writer in Residence in the Chemistry Department at the University of Cambridge. He wrote a "Molecule of the Month" column for the Independent
for many years, received a Glaxo award for science writing and the Chemical Industries Association's President's Award for science communication. His books include Molecules in an Exhibition
and Nature's Building Blocks
Table of Contents
1. Vanity - no more wrinkles?
2. Vitality - food for thought
3. Virility, sterility, and Viagra
4. Germs warfare
5. It's all in the mind
6. Polymers in unlikely guises
Postscript - a risk worth taking?