"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.
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