Book: Stories of the Invisible

Stories of the Invisible: a guided tour of molecules
A modest cover for a modest book.

Rapid tour of the sciences, from Chemistry to Biology.
380 pages, ★★★★★

Reading this, I feel like one of those busy tourists who takes a coach-tour of 17 European countries in the same number of days.

The book’s travel plan looks like this:

  • Pure Mathematics (smallest)
  • Statistics
  • Theoretical Physics
  • Particle Physics
  • Applied Physics
  • Theoretical Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology
  • Psychology
  • Medicine
  • the Social Sciences
  • Philosophy (largest)

By reading this book, you’ll get a glorious tour of all the subjects in bold above. Equate that to dozens of stamps in your passport.

You’ll learn why spider silk becomes insoluble when it solidifies as it comes out of the spider (and thus can’t be re-constituted like dried vermicelli can). You’ll learn the history of some chemical discoveries (all of which occurred by accident). You’ll learn why bacteria can ‘swim’, and how this technology can be harnessed to make nano-robots. You’ll learn how ambiguous names such as “A-bands” and “H-zones” (in muscle sarcomeres) indicate that the discoverers hadn’t the faintest clue as to their purpose. On top of all that, you’ll even learn how nerves work (that’s physiology).

This book even dispels my two favourite high-school lies: first, that mitochondria are round (actually, they are long and blobby, like the wax that drips down the side of a burning candle); and second, that ATP has a “high-energy phosphate bond” (actually, it’s only a high-energy bond under normal cellular conditions because cells manufacture a strong intracellular disequilibrium in favour of ATP).

This book is a quick primer to Chemistry and Biology. It’s clearly-written, and big diagrams are used when necessary. I recommend Stories of the Invisible for all prospective chemistry, biochemistry, or biology students. You all have time to read it. ★★★★★

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