Review: What is Chemistry?

What is Chemistry? is a simple science book for the beginning chemist.  The author, Peter Atkins, is a former professor of chemistry at Oxford, and the writer of many textbooks and popular science books. I picked this book up in the hopes of learning more about chemistry, since I have never taken a formal chemistry class before, and I found it both interesting and easy to understand. Atkins’ aim, as he says in the preface, is to open our eyes to a fascinating world that is largely misunderstood. He explains the history, basic chemical reactions, and things that we would not have without chemistry (clean water, plastics, fertilizers, colored fabrics). Taking such a huge, broad topic and distilling it down into 111 pages is an admirable feat.

This book is wonderful for lay readers. There were times when Atkins’ technical language and explanations went over my head, but for the most part this book helped bring together many things I had heard about chemistry but never understood. Having read only few books on the topic of chemistry, I cannot say what this book has added to the world of scientific literature, but it added greatly to my knowledge of chemistry and its processes.

What is Chemistry? was a good read. Although the prose can be wordy and dry at times, Atkins explains in broad terms all the principles, reactions, techniques, achievements, and future of chemistry.  No book is perfect, but Atkins obviously understands his topic well and is eager to share it. He even tells the dark side of chemistry: poison gas and bombs.

My eyes were opened further to the world of chemistry, a world I was only vaguely aware of. I would recommend this book to the lay, non-scientist reader if they want to have a basic understanding about chemistry.


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