The Strange Chemistry of What We Put in Us and on Us
“Delivers an enthusiastic introduction to nutritional epidemiology . . . Using simple illustrations and his trademark humor to demystify scientific analysis that doesn't always prove cause and effect, Zaidan empowers readers to make their own dietary decisions.” —Shelf Awareness, starred review
Cheese puffs. Coffee. Sunscreen. Vapes. George Zaidan reveals what will kill you, what won’t, and why—explained with high-octane hilarity, hysterical hijinks, and other things that don’t begin with the letter H.
INGREDIENTS offers the perspective of a chemist on the stuff we eat, drink, inhale, and smear on ourselves. Apart from the burning question of whether you should eat those Cheetos, Zaidan explores a range of topics. Here’s a helpful guide:
Stuff in this book:
- How bad is processed food? How sure are we?
- Is sunscreen safe? Should you use it?
- Is coffee good or bad for you?
- What’s your disease horoscope?
- What is that public pool smell made of?
- What happens when you overdose on fentanyl in the sun?
- What do cassava plants and Soviet spies have in common?
- When will you die?
Stuff in other books:
- Your carbon footprint
- Food sustainability
- CEO pay
- Science funding
- Any kind of ball, really
Zaidan, an MIT-trained chemist who cohosted CNBC’s hit Make Me a Millionaire Inventor and wrote and voiced several TED-Ed viral videos, makes chemistry more fun than Hogwarts as he reveals exactly what science can (and can’t) tell us about the packaged ingredients sold to us every day. Sugar, spinach, formaldehyde, cyanide, the ingredients of life and death, and how we know if something is good or bad for us—as well as the genius of aphids and their butts—are all discussed in exquisite detail at breakneck speed.
Chemist Zaidan debuts with an engaging and witty examination of the myriad things people ingest, place on their skin, and otherwise come into contact with. Throughout, Zaidan evinces a gift for making complicated scientific principles easy to understand. Anyone who has sweated through organic chemistry will be grateful for the explanation of how certain molecules are innocuous in some forms and deadly in others, while the nutritionally-minded will appreciate the persuasive arguments against ultra-processed foods. For those concerned about the safety of sunscreen, Zaidan gives a realistic and nonalarmist accounting of the risks, noting that "unless you're allergic to any of" the product's chemical ingredients, or use it over an extremely prolonged period, there's little reason to worry. He also pokes fun at the questionable assumptions made in reporting on scientific studies, noting that while one headline might declare that coffee causes cancer, another refutes that conclusion. He amusingly uses potholes as a metaphor for how supposedly foolproof studies can go awry whether by procedural mistakes, simple math errors, or outright fraud. While Zaidan lays on the humor, his conclusions are sound. Science lovers will enjoy Zaidan's lighthearted approach.