The Alchemy of Us

Books are my all time favorite gift, both as a receiver and as a giver. And this holiday season, I received a few and gifted a few. In this socially distanced climate, books were a convenient medium to express appreciation. I was delighted by my loot this season. I love it when my reads are picked by someone else. It’s a fabulous way to add diversity to the content I consume.

Gifting books is not easy. I recommend books on the basis of what I find interesting about the book. I usually don’t apply the filter of whether the other person would enjoy it. The rationale being that I only recommend books to people who I know like to read. And people who read, usually are open to diverse content, just like I am. Broad assumption. But that’s why I am shy of recommending books to just about everyone.

Anyways, of the few books that I received this holiday season there is one that I particularly enjoyed. It’s called the Alchemy of us. Now if you look up this book on Amazon, it is categorized under material science. I completely disagree with this categorization. If anything, this book belongs to popular science or for that matter history.

The book is special on multiple accounts let’s address them one by one. So first, this book approaches scientific discoveries, albeit material discoveries, from the lens of a historian. And to that, a historian who is a crafted story teller. I am not a history lover. But even I found the stories rather interesting. And the events leading one to the other, in the backdrop of an evolving world, made for a delightful and engaging read. I now wonder if I should read some history books to see if this style of narration is a default.

I will admit that the book has a few flaws. Although it starts with a very promising and crafty style of narration. In the last few chapters the author struggles to continue with that narration. Now it could be that the world had become quite boring and the more recent discoveries were not as interesting from a history perspective. But as a reader I almost felt like the author ran out of steam. Perhaps I am being a little harsh.

The second reason, and the more compelling reason, why I really liked this book was the raw acceptance by an academician about the treatment of science in our current society. We associate a certain eliteness with science, which must be addressed. It is no surprise to me that when we take the wonder out of science and replace that with pedigree, it starts to be seen as something that the masses must not embrace for they will not grasp it.

To talk about science in a way like Ainissa Ramirez does in her book, you have to know both sides of the coin. Ramirez’s commentary on the unintended consequences of some of these inventions could use more prose, but I am glad she does not leave us with just facts. And that cultural commentary is a unique style to master. So I hope she keeps at it in her future works.

In the end, Ainissa made science “playful” for me. And I wished that I was taught science in the way she does.

She is a crafted story teller while brings to life some known and many unknown scientists and experimenters who have contributed to the life I live today. Her audacious attempt at demystifying inventions by bringing to us a three dimensional perspective of history, science and story telling as one coherent unit, is most welcome, especially in today’s world that gives way too much importance to specialization. A generalist at heart and by vocation I was glad to read a book by a scientist who sees the rich and diverse contours of the society as I experience them.

PS.. If you buy the book, feel free to skip the last two chapters. Honestly they ruined the experience for me. So I went ahead and read the epilogue that served as a good summary of the content I had consumed before getting to them.

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