This book has been around since 1991, but I had not read it until a colleague suggested that I do. This is the first of least four novels by Stanford chemist Carl Djerassi, best known for his work on oral contraceptives.
Haber's name is found in the indices of a large fraction of all books about chemistry. Introductory students learn about the Haber process, by which we (still) synthesize ammonia from nitrogen in the air. Physical chemistry always includes the Haber cycle, a systematic approach to thermochemistry.
The full title of this book is "The Areas of My Expertise: Which Include Matters Historical, Matters Literary, Matters Cryptozoological, Hobo Matters, Food, Drink & Cheese (a kind of food), Squirrels and Lobsters & Eels, Haircuts, Utopia, What Will Happen in the Future, and Most Other Subjects". It is full of little-known and bizarre facts, all of which were fabricated.
Why is society organized the way it is? Is it possible to use some of the laws of the physical universe to understand why and how national economies, stock and commodity markets, companies and clubs organize the way they do? Can physics provides "laws" of human nature that are as useful and universal as those of mechanics?
If there is a subject more rife with bad science than that of human nutrition, I don't know what it would be. It seems that every year there is another fad diet, based on unproven theory and void of any semblance of scientific evidence.
Choose ten exemplary chemistry experiments. The synthesis of nylon? Bakelite, the first man-made polymer? The structure of DNA? The fixing of nitrogen? The discovery of buckyballs? Sorry, but none of those made the list of veteran science writer Philip Ball. Mr. Ball was looking for something other than mere importance.
My goal in Hal's Picks is to expand the chemistry curriculum, embracing science that is not usually included in chemistry courses. This month is an exception. The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry is about exactly the topics that traditionally appear in Introductory Chemistry courses.
I seldom have chosen books as Hal's Picks that are not relatively recent (although there are precedents for this), but the current controversy over "Intelligent" Design brought vividly to mind the 1971 book, "Chance and Necessity" by Nobelist Jacques Monod.
Gurstelle also wrote "Building Bots: Designing and Building Warrior Robots", but I haven't read that one. "Catapult" is definitely in the spirit of "build it yourself", that I like to encourage here and also in "The Cost-Effective Teacher" feature in the print Journal.