Description: This book is about food, water, fuel, medicine, plastics, cities, and sports and the part that chemists will play in ensuring the future of these enterprises. Essentially, this relatively small book provokes thought about modern life that is surrounded by synthetic products that are in turn derived from fossil remains, e.g., petroleum base. It takes no prisoners in terms of its analysis of everything from pharmaceuticals to road fuels.
Purpose: John Emsley clearly believes our world stands at a crossroads in terms of our ability to properly use (and conserve) resources. He basically argues that the future will be determined by our understanding and preservation of scarce resources. This book is in line with the author's earlier contributions The Consumer's Good Chemical Guide: A Jargon-Free Guide to the Chemicals of Everyday Life, Molecules at an Exhibition: Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday Life, Vanity, Vitality, and Virility: The Science Behind the Products You Love to Buy, and Better Looking, Better Living, Better Loving: How Chemistry Can Help You Achieve Life's Goals. In the truest sense, Dr. Emsley is an educator. It would be impossible to read his book in its entirety without learning something. His views are those of an informed chemist and an advocate for this discipline.
Audience: Such a lively read should find an audience among the technically inclined as well as those who are less so disposed. If one uses Emsley's common sense frames as a guide, the book would appeal to those who wish to truly understand the implications of events such as bacterial resistance, swimming pool disease outbreaks, the role of homeopathy, and the appropriate use of automated dishwashers, along with a dozen other topics.
Features: This book deals with entities that are generally inherent in a developed lifestyle. It is inarguable that we are, indeed, dependent upon food, water, fuel, healing drugs, and plastics. Emsley challenges readers to examine the implication of their use in seven chapters: food and chemistry (fertilizers, pesticides and natural toxins); water and chemistry (water analysis, wastewater treatment, and extreme water); health and chemistry (obesity and multiple sclerosis); transport biofuels (bioethanol, biodiesel and biohydrogen); plastics and chemistry (biopolymers, polyurethane, and extreme polymers); cities and chemistry (city of light, clean clothes); and sport and chemistry (performance-enhancing drugs and foods). Finally, Emsley plots out his notions of major developments along 7-, 17-, and 27-year timelines. I hope someone revisits this book at the 7-year point to see how things went.
Assessment: Fun! That's about what I have to say about this book lots of fun! There's been talk for years of how best to construct courses or discussionals on these topics. No group has all the answers: chemists can tell us what we might do but don't always understand the policy implications; policymakers, on the other hand, rarely come at technical problems with much more than a recent briefing by staff. This little book actually does a lot of both. It clarifies, explains, and sometimes posits a useful course. Professor David Garner (Nottingham) congratulates Emsley on "providing an informed and objective account of chemicals." I agree.