Mark Griep and Marjorie Mikasen. ReAction! Chemistry in the Movies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 340 pp. $49.95.
Mark Griep and Marjorie Mikasen have tried something new by presenting a scientific—not sociological—analysis of chemistry’s role in films. They lay out twin theses in the introduction: namely that the movies can present either the light side or the dark side of chemistry and that there are five subdivisions of each. On the dark side the authors explore themes and archetypes like Jekyll and Hyde, chemical weapons, and addiction. The light side centers on inventors, forensics, drug discovery, and more. Under each of these headings Griep and Mikasen arbitrarily select a primary film to discuss in detail and then draw on one or more other films to support their arguments. Perhaps the most interesting portion of the book details the authors’ attempts to “de-code” Robert Louis Stevenson’s vaguely stated formula whereby the kindly Dr. Jekyll is transformed into the bestial Mr. Hyde. While none of us will ever know what Stevenson was actually imagining when he described that “blood-red liquor,” Griep’s and Mikasen’s guesses are thought provoking. As to be expected in a book not written by film-studies professionals, there are some minor factual errors; but the science is sound, and this is a long-overdue salute to films that have used chemistry as more than a mere plot device.–Andrew Mangravite
Elizabeth Grossman. Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2009. 249 pp. $26.95.
In her latest book Elizabeth Grossman takes us along for a ride in Chasing Molecules, as the molecules travel across wind and water to some of the most remote places on Earth. The book mimics a travel diary for synthetic chemicals, tracing their routes from point of creation, to integration in the products of everyday life, to their ultimate demise. Drawing on interviews and reviews of some of the latest scientific literature, Grossman details how these chemicals have become a part of us in very intimate ways. But by moving too quickly through this vast sea of information, Grossman gives only a glimpse of the surface instead of pausing to dig a little deeper and show how complicated things really are.–Jody A. Roberts
Nylon valve, 1940s–1950s
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