Should I drop AP chemistry

Chemistry to be enjoyed

Hugh Aldersey-Williams: "The wild life of the elements", Hanser Verlag, Munich 2011, 464 pages

The book aims to bring the fascination of chemistry closer to skeptical laypeople as well. (AP)

Hugh Aldersey-Williams proves how exciting and interesting chemistry can be in his book "The Wild Life of the Elements". With bizarre stories and fascinating information, he arouses the interest of chemical grouches.

Toxic residues, unnatural food, polluted environment. Chemistry has a bad reputation for the vast majority of the population. The book author Hugh Aldersey-Williams wants to change that. In his new book "The wild life of the elements" he succeeds in bringing the fascination of chemistry closer to skeptical laypeople through exciting stories and sometimes bizarre background information. It gives the periodic table, which many know from chemistry class, a new shine and brings the elements in it to life.

Hugh Aldersey-Williams: The Wild Life of the Elements. A cultural history of chemistry (Hanser Verlag) It's not difficult with gold. Eventually it went from being a shiny but useless metal to an international symbol of power, wealth and persistence. The pursuit of gold allowed some regions to flourish, but also entire cultures to perish. The element platinum, on the other hand, embodies a "higher order snobbery" according to Aldersey-Williams. An extremely inert element for those for whom gold is not enough. Sulfur leads the reader from the Revelation of John through volcanism to the construction of biological structures. The chrome explains the exhilaration of the economic miracle as well as the depths of the free market economy. Or the hard metal iron, which stands for masculinity and war and at the same time carries impermanence, rust, in itself.

There is no critical brooding while reading this book. Hugh Aldersey-Williams himself describes the insidious element arsenic, "the legacy powder", to which many people still fall victim to this day, with a smile and a lot of joy in bizarre. In the 19th century, arsenic was used as a raw material for bright green colors. Napoleon was probably not deliberately poisoned by arsenic on St. Helena. However, significant amounts of the poisonous element were found in his bones and hair. They probably come from a green wallpaper that was fashionable back then. Napoleon had no inkling of their arsenic content.

The book captivates with countless stories in which the past is brought to life through chemical glasses. You can even learn new things about the euro. The colors under the UV lamp, which are supposed to ensure protection against forgery, are created by a chemical element that was discovered exactly a hundred years before the introduction of the euro bills. It belongs to the rare earths and bears the name "Europium". But this is top secret and is not officially confirmed by the European Central Bank.

The "wild life of the elements" offers reading pleasure for those interested in chemistry who want to learn more about the cultural side of their passion. It is also suitable for culture connoisseurs, for whom chemistry was previously a book with seven seals. You get a new perspective on an exciting science without having to fathom it. A book to browse and smile, for that little bite of chemistry in between.

Reviewed by Michael Lange

Hugh Aldersey-Williams: The Wild Life of the Elements - A Cultural History of Chemistry Translation from English by Friedrich Griese
Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2011
464 pages, 24.90 euros