Books in Scientia – That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Title and author

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles by Joe Schwarcz


What’s it about?

It’s a collection of short articles about various aspects of everyday chemistry all smooshed into a book with a picture of a biscuit on the front… mmm, cookie…

What are the good bits?

Ummm, well I didn’t know anything about the chemistry of airbags, so that section was mildly intriguing to me. Explosive sodium azide (NaN3) decomposes on ignition to form nitrogen gas which is used to inflate the bag – TOTES NIFTY.

What are the not-so-good bits?

Unfortunately, most of it. The book is bland and written in a very condescending tone. Every single story ends with an annoyingly glib statement like:

“It almost makes polenta sound appealing” (Y U HATE POLENTA JOE? THAT BE SOME DELICIOUS CORNMEAL)

“A walk in the sunshine is a much more pleasant prospect” (than being force-fed fish oil – duh.)

“And we know what terrorists are capable of” (Gee, that’s cheery Joe. Post 9/11 much?)

“Maybe I should go and make myself some mashed potatoes” (alrighty then)

What does it say on page 210, line 23?

“Maybe you can find more information about this on the World Wide Web” REALLY? INFORMATIONS ON THE INTERNETS? THANKS JOE!

This is yet another one of the drippy closing lines that I’m talking about.

Who should read it?

Those with an interest in chemistry, as applied to everyday life BUT have only about a primary school level education in science AND have never read a popular chemistry book before.

How good is it?

I’m giving this book 1 out of 5 bottles of pyrophoric reagent.

1 pyrophoric

One Comment on “Books in Scientia – That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles”

  1. The real shame? Using cookies as a guide to understanding chemistry should be a page-turner. I say this because of personal experience. My father worked as a packaging engineer for Frito-Lay back in the early Eighties, and one of his first assignments was trying to solve an issue with the newly acquired Grandma’s Cookies brand. Frito acquired Grandma’s right about the time when 27/7 vending machines started becoming popular, and customers were writing in to complain about the new Grandma’s soft cookies. Apparently, particularly in airports, soft cookies bought in vending machines were turning into dust: edible dust, but still dust. It turned out that the Mylar packaging used for these allowed enough ultraviolet light from the vending machine fluorescent bulbs to get through and break down the chemical bonds keeping the cookie from disintegrating. The trick was to apply a thin layer of aluminum to the inside of the packaging, which reflected the UV and prevented similar degradation from visible light as well. This turned out to be so successful that not only were those soft oatmeal cookies one of the big sellers at Grandma’s in the early days of the acquisition, but it was applied to other Frito packages as well. Just think: every time you see one of those aluminized Fritos or Doritos packages in a vending machine somewhere, that’s an opportunity to teach science to people who otherwise “wouldn’t get it”.

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