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Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules Hardcover – October 25, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Molecules," Philip Ball writes, "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 armor of spider silk and modeling 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, the better he gets. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

"Kevlar [a DuPont product] is one of the best candidates... for tethering a space platform.... But gram for gram, silk is stronger still," explains Philip Ball (H2O: A Biography of Water) in Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules. Thus does this Nature magazine writer and editor render practical and navigable the abstractions of invisible science. "Our metabolic processes are primarily about making molecules. Cells cannot survive without constantly reinventing themselves: making new amino acids for proteins, new lipids for membranes." But Ball's biological explanation for life, thought and action is no dry, joyless drone: "That a conspiracy of molecules might have created King Lear... makes the world seem an enchanted place." Pop-science enthusiasts will eat it up. Illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (October 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192802143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192802149
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,694,243 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Almost all of this is about biochemistry where the molecules are large, complex and of overriding importance and interest to human beings. In particular Philip Ball, who is a science journalist and formerly an editor of Nature, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, wants to show "the molecular processes that govern our own bodies are not so different from those that chemists--I would prefer to say molecular scientists--are seeking to create." His further intent in this modest little book is to counter the "negative connotations of <chemical> and <synthetic>" in the public mind and to help us "appreciate what chemistry has to offer." Ball observes that "molecules" do not yet have negative connotations, and he wants to keep it that way. (pp. vi-vii)
Ball demonstrates just how really complex the molecular world is, and how the technology is becoming further removed from our everyday world, while the effect on our world grows enormously. The text does not consist of "stories" as such, but rather a broad survey of molecular science, including what's happening in exciting new fields such as molecular electronics, and how new uses for molecular knowledge is transforming older fields such as paleontology, computer science, information theory, forensics, etc. Ball provides some material on cellular construction and metabolism, augmented with drawings from his own hand. He gives us a feel for the invisible, tactile reality of molecular interactions, in which surface structure is paramount. He ends the book with a brief look at the prospects for molecular and DNA computers.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on November 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Phillip Ball writes well, capably cuts through the complex stuff to get to the heart of the matter, and tells good stories. If you read one science book a year, or you want to give a gift to your Aunt Minnie who always wanted to find out why chemicals aren't all bad, this is the book for you.
I downrated this book because it doesn't really do what it says it is going to do. It purports to be about chemistry, and it has blurbs written by four Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry. The book claims it wants to restore chemistry to its rightful position among the natural sciences, having been relegated to a lowly position by New Age environmentalist non-think. However, the book spends most of its time on biochemistry, cell biology, and other biological topics! Phillip Ball does not really address his challenge, because so little of the book is about the chemistry of chemists (molecular engineers?) as opposed to biologists.
I wish Ball would write another book--this one really about chemistry. There's a great story to tell.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joe Zika TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules written by Philip Ball is about chemistry, but to be more specific, a blend of biochemistry, bioelectricity, molecular biology, molecular chemistry.
This book trys, as the author stated, to give chemistry a better overall picture, but the boundries are becouming blurred, even more so when you explain molecular organic chemistry. Now, reading this book, doesn't require a degree in any of these disciplines, but a good grasp of scientific principles helps.
The narrative is easily read and is not difficult to read as the author relates to the reader what is happening in industry today. As more and more of the interworkings are understood in molecular chemistry, mankind should be reaping the benefits, making our lives easiler, and making better products. What I fould to be the most intriguing is a molecular chemical computer more on the order of the human brain.
Life in the next one hundred years will be very different than life was in the last one hundred years and mankind harnessing the molecules of life will be on the forefront. Nanothechnology is another field addressed in the book. As the author makes a good point, if we can find the tools to manipulate this technology, we pretty much can control everything.
All of the subjects within this book are invisible, but with tunneling microscopy, electron microscope, and other tool of the trade, making what was once unseen, now visible. Along with the authors hand drawn art illustrates the point quite well at times. I found the book readable with the caveat... you must have some science orientation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bonam Pak on August 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
I read the 2002 paperback of the 2001 book. It contains just 185 regular text pages, including 40 illustrations. It touches upon subjects such as biosynergetic engineering, supramolecular chemistry, molecular computing or, more down to earth, such topics as the workings of hormones, drugs and painkillers. In other words it's more about biochemistry than anything else. It may function as a conspectus of the subject of molecules. Yet, I find the concept or message of the book difficult to detect. At times, the choice of topics seemed logical, at other times the entire book felt arbitrary. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret having read the book. However, it gave me little more than an idea of topics I may want to read about elsewhere in-depth.
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