Keith Taber reviews this guide to chemistry supporting healthy living

book cover

A healthy, wealthy, sustainable world
John Emsley
Cambridge, UK: RSC Publishing 2010 | Pp170 | £18.99 | ISBN 9781847558626

This book reflects two major premises. One is that we face a major crisis because of how humans have been using the world's resources in a way that is unsustainable. The second is that although this is a major problem, there is hope, and much of that hope centres on chemistry.

Emsley's book is divided into chapters according to major areas of application of chemical sciences: Food, water, health, fuels, plastics, cities and sport. Within each of these contexts, a case is made for how chemistry can make a continuing major contribution to maintaining and developing standards of living for present and future generations. Emsley discusses what has already been achieved, what is under development, and what chemists can reasonably hope to aspire to. However, he points out how such aspirations depend upon a continuing flow of gifted young people into the chemical sciences.

A key theme in the book is that despite the bad press often given to 'chemicals', chemists have already done a great deal to help people become healthier and safer, as well as having increasingly sophisticated 'kit' to house and clothe, and entertain us.

The volume is packed with facts and Emsley is relentless in supporting his argument with engaging examples. This book is highly recommended for chemists who will enjoy its breadth, but it will make an even better present for those misguided enough to see chemistry as inherently a 'bad guy' in the environmental context and, perhaps even more importantly, for those who are still young enough to be making up their minds.