Twitter Brain’s Chemistry Novel (and other book) recommendations

I’ve been looking for an easy to read book (fiction or non-fiction) to send out to chemistry students before they arrive at Uni. The plan is to have all our first years read the same book before they arrive. With any luck it will give them something to chat about and give our first few lectures a point of reference.

So I asked the twitter brain for its chemistry book recommendations, and here’s what it came up with.

  1. @Sci_ents @DrRubidium Anyone say Greg Benford’s Timescape? More physics but includes NMR, time travel, eco-disaster, and academics.
  2. @Sci_ents @DrRubidium I can recommend an author… Peter Watts.. his first series is chock full of science goodness including chemistry
  3. @sci_ents we’re partial to this one: Short stories about a deadly assassin who uses a different poison for each kill
  4. @ChemistryWorld @Sci_ents My friend told me to read “The Disappearing Spoon” by Sam Kean. I just checked it out from the library!
  5. @Sci_ents I enjoyed ‘The Girls of Atomic City.” It tells the story of the nuclear bomb development from the “blue collar” people working…
  6. @simonbayly @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld It was Mr Levi whom inspired me onto the chemical trail at age 14. Highly recommended reading.
  7. @BytesizeScience @Sci_ents Goethe’s “Elective Affinities” is a Classical example, but highly metaphorical. Downhill from there.
  8. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld Mr Tompkins by George Gamow
  9. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld The Periodic Table by Primo Levi isn’t a novel exactly, but it is one of the best books ever.
  10. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld @Sci_ents not sure if this counts but “cat’s cradle” by Vonnegut has some nice ideas
  11. @Sci_ents Interesting physics and chemistry in Reflex by Dick Francis. Not exactly concepts though, more application.
  12. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld not really a novel but The Periodic Kingdom by P W Atkins is a great read
  13. @Sci_ents The Documents in the Case, Dorothy L. Sayers. Not much chemistry until the clincher which is chemical concept. (DM for spoiler)
  14. @Sci_ents When I was undergrad, one grad inorg cume at WUSTL included question, “Who killed Missy Moonbeam in The Delta Star?”
  15. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld
    Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks
  16. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld Susan Gaines’ Carbon Dreams?
  17. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld – Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History, Penny Le Couteur
  18. @Sci_ents Not exactly fitting the criteria but Primo Levi’s Periodic Table comes to mind
  19. @Sci_ents Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table some named as best science novel ever
  20. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld or cat’s cradle if gravity’s rainbow is too much of a slogger
  21. @Sci_ents Emm short answer no. Long shot- Dune. Spice as a drug, water harvesting and terraforming. Best I can do ad hoc
  22. @Sci_ents A Whiff of Death (I. Asimov) — murder mystery set in Chemistry department… The Delta Star (J. Wambaugh) — similar plot.
  23. @Sci_ents @ChemistryWorld gravity’s rainbow, imopolex g


Did we miss any?


  1. I stumbled on this conversation in a web search. We are developing a humanities research program that examines a new trend in literary fiction to take science seriously, what we call “science novels”. We will be interested in if and how these books may serve in teaching, and what sorts of discourse they trigger among working scientists.
    For your purposes, two of my own books might be of interest in terms of how organic chemistry functions in the natural world: “Carbon Dreams” (CABC 2001) (a novel about a organic chemist who uses molecular fossils to study paleoclimates; gives a good sense of the trials and tribulations of a modern (female!) research chemist.) And a non-fiction science narrative “Echoes of Life: What Fossil Molecules Reveal about Earth History,” (OUP 2009) which gives a historic account of the development of organic geochemistry, and, in the process, gives a good sense of how science gets done and an entertaining overview of biogeochemistry that gives a sense of how science gets done.

    One of the things our researchers may be interested in is how

  2. I’m very late to the party, interested to find a Dick Francis book come up, he was always very good at doing research (and/ or rather employing good assistants, or it was his son)
    I suggest “The secrets of alchemy” by Lawrence Principe, which is the newest general history of chemistry, written by a chemist (organic though, you can tell) and actual reproductions of alchemical experiments he has done over the years. It’s something of a counterblast to those who wibble on about Jung and such in relation to alchemy, because oddly enough, they’re wrong.
    Mind you it might still be a bit expensive and hard to find, because Larry is American and his book is unlikely to be imported into the UK in large numbers.

  3. Don’t make them read an irrelevant book. I had a game theory prof who made us read some philip k dick novel then tested us on it. It was just an annoyance.

  4. I want to go with ‘The Disappearing Spoon’, its a cracking read and creates a great chemistry back story.

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  6. Katie Thorpe says:

    I’m surely going to bookmark this.

    This is second time I’m reading an article so awesome like this. The first time was on blog tyrant.

    I hope to be just like you guys soon. Urdu Literature Mobile App

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