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Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs: 67 Digestible Commentaries on the Fascinating Chemistry of Everyday Life

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805074079
ISBN-10: 0805074074
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Joe Schwarcz has mastered the art of science education as an attention-holding and rewarding experience. In this book he provides a great read, a book you will not want to put down. You will learn a great deal about the world around us while being compelled to read on--it's an educator's dream! (Kelvin G. Ogilvie, President, Acadia University)

It is hard to believe that anybody could be drawn to such a dull and smelly subject as chemistry--until, that is, one picks up Joe Schwarcz's book and is reminded that with every breath and feeling one is experiencing chemistry. Falling in love, we all know, is a matter of the right chemistry. Schwarcz gets his chemistry right, and hooks his readers. (John C. Polanyi, Nobel Laureate)

Joe Schwarcz's magic is in convincing us that there is verve and value in real chemistry. (Roald Hoffman, Nobel Laureate)

Dr. Schwarcz has written a book that is enormously enjoyable--it commands and holds your attention. It explains science and scientific phenomena in a simple and accurate way while stimulating logical thinking. It will lead to a scientifically literate reader who will not be so easily misled by those who wish to paint science and technology as being a danger to humankind. (Michael Smith, Nobel Laureate)

About the Author

Dr. Joe Schwarcz is a professor of chemistry and the Director of the Office for Chemistry and Society at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He hosts a weekly phone-in radio show, is a regular on Canadian television, gives numerous public lectures, regularly contributes feature stories to the Washington Post, and writes a weekly column for the Montreal Gazette. He has received many honors, including the prestigious American Chemical Society's Grady-Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public. "Dr. Joe" lives in Montreal.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (August 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805074074
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805074079
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Craig MACKINNON on November 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
Dr. Schwarcz is well-known throughout Canada (and especially, the University of McGill in Montreal) as being the consummate chemistry lecturer. His courses are filled with anecdotes, demonstrations, and humour. He has translated his infectious interest in chemistry to the written word, and the result is a fascinating book that you will enjoy reading, and likely refer to again and again when someone asks, "I wonder why....?" As the title promises, the book is a series of short anecdotes about a variety of chemical subjects. For example, the titular "radar, hula hoops, and playful pigs" gives the connection between these three items (airborne radar, hula hoops, and pig playtoys are all made from the same polymer). The majority of the essays revolve around health, probably reflecting both the author's training (as a carbohydrate chemist) and society's bias.
Schwarcz has two underlying, scientific themes. Science in general, and chemistry in particular, is neither good nor evil - it's the context/use of chemistry that gives a moral distinction. Likewise, chemical effects are generally driven by amount - arsenic is not poisonous in low enough concentrations, while water is deadly under certain conditions (if inhaled, for example). The second point is to make the reader a skeptical consumer. He gives numerous examples of good science vs. bad science - a product trotting out "testimonials" is not evidence that it will work in all cases (or even in the majority of cases!). That's not to say the book gets bogged down in details. His writing style is sharp, witty, and concise. The book can be picked up and read from any point, and you'll still learn something interesting.
I am a chemist, and can assure the chemists considering this book that the science is accurate.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Don Platt on May 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
The sub-title says it right: "Digestible Commentaries." The writing style is informative, entertaining and always illuminating. The narratives on diet, in particular, are very applicable to daily life. He does an excellent job of debunking the myths of "chemical content" in our lives and consistently makes the point that "chemical" is not a dirty word! A great and easy read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robin on July 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
Surprisingly, a book about science that is unbiased, very informative and an easy and enjoyable read! I would most definitely recommend this book to anybody with an interest in not just science and chemistry but also to those who wonder how modern society got to where it is. You'll find information about everyday items found around the house and in the workplace that is insightful, interesting and applicable to everybody. Not to mention the added bonus of being able to surprise your acquaintances with fascinating small talk! A surefire pleasing read for anyone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ----neal M. Shaw on August 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is perfect for anyone interested in how various products were developed, health aspects of chemistry, or the history of various chemical discoveries. As a high school science teacher I am always looking for anecdotes regarding various science topics. This is perfect!! Lots of fun!
Thanks Joe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By mdw3437 on December 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
I've read several books by this author, and I'm always impressed by his way of making chemistry (a subject I never understood in school) interesting and fun. This book did not disappoint--it was as good as his other books. You don't have to read this book in one sitting, either. I tend to read a chapter a night, and since each section is on a different topic, I don't feel like I've lost my place.
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Format: Paperback
Dr. Schwarcz presents "67 digestible commentaries on the fascinating chemistry of everyday life".

This is a great collection of true stories and anecdotes about science throughout history. From the invention of gunpowder to the investigation of medical frauds, Dr. Schwarcz describes the science and the personalities involved in a variety of odd, unusual, historic, and sometimes just-plain-gross circumstances.

Dr. Schwarcz's primary area of interest is in biochemistry and nutrition, and he talks quite a bit about dietary nutrients and supplements. It's certainly not a comprehensive guide to this topic, but it does provide some very important bits of wisdom that may help readers separate legitimate benefits from bunk.

There is also some practical household advice here, including discussions of the chemistry of shampoo and laundry detergent (you're probably using a lot more of both of these than you need!) and Dr. Schwarcz's recipe to remove skunk-spray odor.

And while we're on the subject of smelly substances, you'll learn more than you probably ever wanted to know about the chemical composition human intestinal gas.

This is a fun book that also takes care to emphasize good experimental science, and makes an effort to clear away some of the more ridiculous ideas about chemistry and about science in general, all while telling sometimes-ridiculous and always-entertaining stories to make the point.
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Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs: 67 Digestible Commentaries on the Fascinating Chemistry of Everyday Life
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