VANITY, VITALITY AND VIRILITY: The Chemistry Behind the Products You Love to Buy

John Emsley, Author . Oxford Univ. $28 (259p) ISBN 978-0-19-280509-6

You are standing in the supermarket holding two bottles of sunscreen. One claims to have titanium dioxide, the other something called OMC. What are these mysterious chemicals and which works better? Enter Emsley, Cambridge University science writer in residence, who demystifies the benefits of chemistry from a catalogue of over 30 chemicals that we encounter every day. His subjects jump from lipstick and sunscreen to trans-fats and vitamin C, bleach, Prozac, baby diapers and Viagra (hence the third V of the title). Emsley includes the sources and uses of all the chemicals, which can read like encyclopedia entries, as well as histories of each chemical's discovery and occasional misuses. To this he adds a few morality tales of chemical witch-hunts in the media, such as the unsubstantiated accusation that aluminum causes Alzheimer's. The book can be read cover to cover or used as a reference, but either way, even chemists will find out some surprising facts, such as that scurvy was for a time treated with sulfuric acid. The more complicated chemistry is relegated to a glossary, but unexplained scientific terms pop up with regularity in the text. Emsley gets on his soapbox in the postscript, asking for a little gratitude for the much maligned chemical industry, whose benefits he has already demonstrated. Given the occasional detours into technical language, however, his audience may be predominantly the chemically inclined. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/03/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Show other formats
Paperback - 259 pages - 978-0-19-280673-4
Hardcover - 272 pages - 978-1-4294-2145-4
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Email Address


Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.