Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Category: 660s

669: The Arsenic Century by James Whorton


669.75094109034: Whorton, James C. The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. 359 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-957470-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 669: Metallurgy
  • 669.7: Other nonferrous metals
  • 669.75: Antimony, arsenic, and bismuth
  • +0941: Great Britain and United Kingdom
  • +09034: 19th Century

It’s an absolute wonder that as many people survived 19th century England did. There was arsenic in everything—in the food, in the paint, on the wallpaper, in wine barrels, in beer, in medicine, in wrapping papers, in clothing, in makeup, in everything. Once arsenic trioxide (a byproduct from purifying gold or copper minerals) was found to be highly marketable to dye and chemical manufacturers, the race was on to cut it into everything imaginable to lower costs and increase profits. James Whorton’s The Arsenic Century looks at the toll arsenic took on 19th century England, and how that shaped current legislation and health science.

Arsenic poisoning was nearly a health epidemic in Victorian England, and because many of the symptoms mirrored those of cholera, it was hard at first to prove death by arsenic. This was a boon for would-be poisoners. Then, began the arms race for chemical tests. Starting with the Marsh test touted by famous chemist Mathieu Orfila and evolving into more and more precise reactions, many British chemists were employed in the pursuit of making sure that arsenic did not slip into too many products, but that did not stop cutthroat merchants and manufacturers. In many cases of arsenic poisoning, each side would blame the other of tampering so no one could be proved at fault. Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers lay at home with gut-wrenching pains, slowly dying by the hand of shady dealers.

The book, while not a rip-roaring read, is a very interesting one. I was generally aware of nefarious manufacturers trying to reduce their costs by using inferior products, but the prevalence of arsenical compounds throughout Victorian England was just mind-boggling. Moreover, the tedious pace by which the government acted to prohibit arsenic use was just laughable. Anybody interested in both history and chemistry should have a good time with this one.


660: Shrinking the Cat by Sue Hubbell


660.65: Hubbell, Sue. Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 160 pp. ISBN 0-618-04027-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 660.6: Biotechnology
  • 660.65: Genetic engineering

Every living thing on the planet has been genetically modified. Each generation forces changes on the next. Most of the time, this modification is natural and inevitable, but sometimes a helping hand intervenes. Ever since humans learned how to grow food, they have been selectively breeding crops that begat more and more resources. In Shrinking the Cat, Sue Hubbell looks at the history of genetic engineering through four species—the corn plant, the silkworm, the cat, and the apple—to get a better sense of the ethics and benefits of human tinkering.

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663: Fizz by Tristan Donovan


663.62: Donovan, Tristan. Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013. 230 pp. ISBN 978-1-61374-722-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 663: Beverage technology
  • 663.6: Nonalcoholic beverages
  • 663.62: Carbonated and mineralized beverages

Ever since Jean Jacob Schweppe started charging a nominal fee for his sparkling mineral water in the 1780s, the paying public has never been able to get enough soda. Mix together a flavoring agent and some carbonated water and you have yourself a tasty (and potentially profitable) treat. In the beginning, sodas were marketed as cure-alls for whatever ailed you. In Fizz, Tristan Donovan compiles a well-written history of the creation, marketing, and consumption of sodas. Starting with Joseph Priestley’s experiments with adding carbon dioxide to water and ending with the complex science behind Red Bull, we get the full range of soda and soda-esque beverages throughout history. There are the classic Pemberton’s Coca-Cola versus Thomson’s Moxie versus Bradham’s Pepsi wars, and the ascension of sodas during both Prohibition and the World Wars, but Donovan goes deeper to look at soda’s impact on global trade, domestic food laws, and the social landscape. There’s also a fair amount on the almost-constant corporate espionage between Coke and Pepsi. The bibliography is decent and thorough, the writing fluid, and the story mildly compelling. A good and interesting read.

666: Glass by McFarlane and Martin


666.1: McFarlane, Alan and Gerry Martin. Glass: A World History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 203 pp. ISBN 0-226-50028-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 666: Ceramic and allied technologies
  • 666.1: Glass

If you really think about it, without the invention of glass, civilization would be stuck in a technological rut. There would be no magnifying glass, no telescope, no spectacles, or no mirrors. We have no glass apparatus to conduct experiments nor any way to comfortably view the environment outside a building. Glass invades nearly every aspect of our lives. Even now, I am looking through a pair of corrective lenses at an image on a computer screen (two panes of glass). Alan McFarlane’s and Gerry Martin’s Glass is a historical and philosophical look at how the invention of glass shaped human history and how glass helped us view the world.

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667: Mauve by Simon Garfield

667.25: Garfield, Simon. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour That Changed the World. London: Faber and Faber, 2000. 195 pp. ISBN 0-571-20917-3.

The 600s (technology), much like the 300s (social sciences) is a hodge-podge class. Most of the divisions work fine. You have engineering, manufacturing, medicine, but then there’s a division on management and one on home economics. Luckily, today we’re looking at a book on chemical engineering, which is the 660s. There’s all kinds of chemical engineering—explosives (662), beverage chemistry (663), food chemistry (664), etc. Works on chemical engineering as applies to the fields of cleaning, color, coating, and related areas falls into 667.

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