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Monday, August 31, 2009

Reading List: Theo Gray's Mad Science

Gray, Theodore. Theo Gray's Mad Science. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2009. ISBN 978-1-57912-791-6.
Regular visitors here will recall that from time to time I enjoy mocking the fanatically risk-averse “safetyland” culture which has gripped the Western world over the last several decades. Pendulums do, however, have a way of swinging back, and there are a few signs that sanity (or, more accurately, entertaining insanity) may be starting to make a comeback. We've seen The Dangerous Book for Boys and the book I dubbed The Dangerous Book for Adults, but—Jeez Louise—look at what we have here! This is really the The Shudderingly Hazardous Book for Crazy People.

A total of fifty-four experiments (all summarised on the book's Web site) range from heating a hot tub with quicklime and water, exploding bubbles filled with a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, making your own iron from magnetite sand with thermite, turning a Snickers bar into rocket fuel, and salting popcorn by bubbling chlorine gas through a pot of molten sodium (it ends badly).

The book is subtitled “Experiments You Can Do at Home—But Probably Shouldn't”, and for many of them that's excellent advice, but they're still a great deal of fun to experience vicariously. I definitely want to try the ice cream recipe which makes a complete batch in thirty seconds flat with the aid of liquid nitrogen. The book is beautifully illustrated and gives the properties of the substances involved in the experiments. Readers should be aware that as the author prominently notes at the outset, the descriptions of many of the riskier experiments do not provide all the information you'd need to perform them safely—you shouldn't even consider trying them yourself unless you're familiar with the materials involved and experienced in the precautions required when working with them.

Posted at August 31, 2009 22:02