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50 Ideas you really need to know - ChemistryHayley Birch

Quercus, £11.99

I was excited to review this book and I was not disappointed. Hayley Birch has a unique style of writing that bridges the gap between a popular science book and an introductory chemistry textbook. She has chosen topics that are not only fundamental to the understanding of chemistry, but are also good examples of why many 21st century chemists get excited about the application of their discipline to other sciences and the changing world at large.

Expected chapters on atoms, elements, bonding, energy and chemical reactions appear, but there are other exciting titles such as self-assembly, computational chemistry, 3D printing, synthetic biology, DNA, astrochemistry and nanotechnology. It is the inclusion of these new fields that will do most to stimulate the curiosity of would-be chemists to want to study the subject at higher levels.

One criticism of this book is the absence of colour. I know authors have to balance use of colour in diagrams and photographs with cost, but there are times when black-and-white representations, unless really well done, do not convey the clarity sought. If future editions are planned, maybe some colour might enhance the reader's experience.

The inclusion of historical timelines and biographical detail of the key players (especially the less well-known ones) is laudable. It helps show the reader that the final product has only come about because of the experiments and thoughts of others, and that science is a cooperative venture that is often multidisciplinary in its pursuit of 21st century solutions to important problems.

This is a reasonably priced book, well written and full of stimulating ideas that you do really need to know.

Dr Stephen R Hoskins CBiol FRSB

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