Author, Publisher, Developer, Stitchcoder


Nice review of Reactions in Nature

My books generally aren't "serious" enough to get reviewed in serious places, so it's nice to see a proper review of Reactions In Nature  (perhaps the most serious scientific journal of them all). It's got some very nice quotes, which my publisher describes as "selling", as in likely to help sell the book (which goes on sale Oct 17th, 2017, and is available for preorder now, in case the quotes work in selling you on it).

a gorgeous gala of reactions
a lavishly illustrated tour of this molecular battleground, full of wit and wonder.
Gray’s enthusiasm shines in Reactions. The text is peppered with dry asides, and a grumpy disdain for anything unscientific.

I would like to say, by the way, that I'm not grumpy about all unscientific things. For example, I like kittens whose litter box someone else has to clean. I'm only grumpy when people lie about what they are doing, claiming it is based on science (i.e. reality) when in fact it's nonsense based on wishful thinking or intentional fraud. That I hate, much like a litter box I have to clean.

Of course, a proper review must always include some complaints (otherwise it isn't serious). You can go ahead and ignore those parts while I agonize over them and decide that I'm an imposter who has no business trying to write books. (I'll be agonizing over the bit about lack of narrative, but not about the places where he complains about one thing or another I didn't cover. I could make a list twice as long of the things *he* didn't cover in listing what *I* didn't cover. Seriously, who expects every important topic—even every headline topic—in chemistry to be covered in a 240 page picture book? That won't even get you past the first chapter in a typical organic chemistry textbook.)

OK, that was my obligatory negative bit about what is otherwise a very pleasing review. Even the (obviously British) reviewer admits that complaining is "churlish". See this lovely paragraph that immediately follows the regrettable ones. (It also includes our word of the day, "chiaroscuro", which is further evidence of the erudite nature of this review.)

Still, it feels churlish to gripe about this love letter. Mann’s photography transforms chemical samples into art, and captures the thrill of Gray’s demonstrations. Many photos recall the works of eighteenth-century artist Joseph Wright, using chiaroscuro to frame the glow of a reaction with a background of deep shadow. Others are playful: in one, chlorine gas combines with sodium metal to create a billow of sodium chloride, which rises to vaporously salt a net full of popcorn.

Nick has now officially been compared to one of the great painters of the Enlightenment, which he should definitely put on his resume. 

I was particularly pleased that the reviewer picked up on Chapter 4, On the Origin of Light and Color, which includes what I think are some of the nicest diagrams I've made in a long time.

the most attractive chapter, on the chemistry of light, draws a beautiful analogy between sound waves and musical notes, and electromagnetic wavelengths and colour.

In the book my diagrams for light and sound have blocks of text and pictures inset into them, so I'll put them here clean and unencumbered. First, this diagram of the visible range of light. Note the wavelength scale: each color is represented by a wave of the appropriate wavelength:

Here is the equivalent for sound over the range of a piano (which is about half of the typical human hearing range):

I think the most striking thing is just how much wider the range is for sounds than for colors. We can hear sounds over a nearly thousand-fold span of wavelengths, but see colors over less than a factor of two.

Next I talk about how musical notes and colors of light can be created. One way is additive: emit the light, or the sound, you want. For example, to get light of a green color, you could create a device of some sort that emits wavelengths of light only in the green range:

To get sound of a particular "color" you could similarly create a device that emits sound of only certain wavelengths. For example, you could play these three notes on a piano to get a pleasing chord:

But there's another way to achieve the same result: create light, or sound, of all wavelengths and then block, or filter out, all the ones you don't want. Imagine for example sunlight, which contains all frequencies of visible light, hitting a special wall that lets only the green wavelengths through:

That must be some pretty special material this wall is made of, right? Actually it's just green paint. Or green-tinted glass, or a green leaf, or anything else that looks green under sunlight. That's what it means for something to be green: It blocks (absorbs) all the frequencies of light that aren't green. (In the book I also talk about how you can do the same with sound, though it is somewhat less common than with light.)

Well, I've gone on long enough, so to end this review of a review, I will gratuitously post the spectrum of a fluorescent light that I put in the book. There is very little justification for drawing spectra this way, with wavy lines, but I think it's very pretty so I did it anyway.

Theodore Gray1 Comment