Book Review | It’s Elemental

My brain keeps adding “my dear Watson” to the end of the title every time I see it, so that’s fun.

In It’s Elemental: The Hidden Chemistry of Everything, scientist Kate Biberdorf takes us through a typical day of a person’s life, exploring the myriad ways that chemistry affects us. We examine the chemistry of cooking, of showering, of exercising, and so on.

I don’t really know what made me pick this to read, but I guess sometimes you’ve just gotta read a pop science book. At least, that’s the case if you’re me.

Basically, I felt kind of stupid the entire time I was listening to this audiobook, but somehow it was an enjoyable time. Because while I often felt quite out of my depth, I was learning, and that is always fun. Especially since the last time I did anything relating to chemistry was sophomore year of high school, so it’s been a while.

In the first couple chapters of this book, Biberdorf gives us a basic rundown of chemistry, from atoms and their parts, to the periodic table of elements, to how molecular interactions work. She uses simple explanations and comparisons to make all these complex concepts accessible to the layperson. For example, early on she compared ions to Lady Gaga (they were born that way). Even so, though, some of the explanations were confusing—though granted, this might be because I was reading the audiobook rather than the physical version. It’s hard for a visual learner like me to comprehend chemical equations when they’re written, let alone spoken.

That said, though, the sections of the book that covered the common activities of people were really interesting, educational, and entertaining. It’s fun to hear how enthusiastic Biberdorf is about her work, and fascinating to see the little ways we interact with chemistry constantly without even thinking about it.

In the end, It’s Elemental is a surprisingly fun book, considering it’s a science book. But Biberdorf’s conversational tone and sense of humor makes this quite engaging. Her narration (as the audiobook is also read by her) is excellent. Some parts are a bit technical at times, but not in an overwhelming way. I don’t know how much of the detail I’ll retain in my memory, but I definitely am glad I read this!

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