Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Tag: chemistry

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.


541: The Periodic Kingdom by P.W. Atkins


541.24: Atkins, P. W. The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements. New York: Basic Books, 1995. 149 pp. ISBN 0-465-07266-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 540: Chemistry
  • 541: Physical chemistry
  • 541.2: Theoretical chemistry
  • 541.24: Atomic structure

I’ve yet to read a book on science that was one giant metaphor. Normally, authors want to just educate the reader on a concept, flesh it out with rich histories and context, and then move on to the next thing. P.W. Atkins’s The Periodic Kingdom is a completely different beast altogether. He imagines the periodic table, on display in classrooms and science labs around the world, as a geographic map. The eastern borders house the nobility and the western shores are home to the most explosive elements. In between are the Metallic Desert, the southern island (transuranic elements), and the Eastern Rectangle (gaseous elements). And Atkins takes it upon himself to be the tour guide of this strange but rather organized kingdom.

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637: The Science of Cheese by Michael Tunick


637.3: Tunick, Michael H. The Science of Cheese. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014. 242 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-992230-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 630: Agriculture and related technologies
  • 637: Processing dairy and related products
  • 637.3: Cheese processing

Cheese has existed in some form or another since the eighth millennium BCE. Over the last ten thousand years, the technique has been the same. Separate the curd (milk solids) from the whey (remaining liquids) and form into a block to eat. How you separate the two, what kind of milk you start with, and what you do to the curd after separation govern the cheese you get. There are cows cheeses, sheep cheese, goat cheese, yak cheeses, stained cheeses, blue cheeses, stretched cheeses, and even brined cheeses. Michael Tunick’s The Science of Cheese is exactly that—a look at the all the wonderful and intricate science behind the making of a single piece of cheese.

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547: The Double Helix by James Watson


547.596: Watson, James. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of Structure of DNA. New York: Touchstone, 2001. 226 pp. ISBN 0-7432-1630-X

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 540: Chemistry
  • 547: Organic chemistry
  • 547.5: Cyclic compounds
  • 547.59: Heterocyclic compounds
  • 547.596: Fused heterocyclic compounds

Before 1952, no knew what DNA looked like. Isolated chemically in 1869 by Friedrich Miescher, no one had been able to come up with its definitive structure. But a single X-ray diffraction image taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling in May 1952 changed all that. Known as Photo 51, it gave James Watson and Francis Crick insight into how the molecule was arranged. Watson’s The Double Helix gives his perspective on the research, discovery, publication, and aftermath of the discovery that some would define as the greatest of the 20th century.

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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.

546: The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean


546: Kean, Sam. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 346 pp. ISBN 978-0-316-05164-4.

Dewey Construction:

  • 500: Science
  • 540: Chemistry and allied sciences
  • 546: Inorganic chemistry

The first review of 2013 is a nice treatise on the periodic table of elements. I’m going for a bit of a different tactic this year. All of my previous reviews tried to give you a sense of the book without giving too much away. What I ended up with were weird, quasi-impersonal assessments that left out the one of the main premises of this project: to show that a immensely broad reading diet can both expand one’s tastes and emphasize just how interconnected information can be. Hopefully, my posts will be a little more energetic this year. That said, on to today’s book!

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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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