The Chemicals of Life

This excitingly informative book by a renowned writer and professor of biochemistry describes the unseen substances that make life possible. Poisons kill, wonder drugs cure, health and life depend upon the billions of cells that comprise the human body…Isaac Asimov tells how and why.

Here is the cycle of creation, the chemicals of life, which act and interact to make the body move, think, grow.

This is Asimov’s first solo effort at writing a non-fiction book. As such, it is exciting to get to, because it is a promise of all the wonderful things to come.

On its own, however, it is not so spectacular, as Asimov himself realized. It’s basically a rewrite of Biochemistry and Human Metabolism on the juvenile level, which causes some peculiarities (for example, the “summary” at the end of each section). It tends to be a little to dependent on technical terminology for a book for teenagers, and Asimov’s writing style is a little more wooden than would become typical later on.

Worse, however, it takes one of the longer book’s most glaring weaknesses, and makes it even worse—Biochemistry and Human Metabolism is inadequate in its treatment of DNA, but The Chemicals of Life fails to mention DNA altogether! Of course, it was being written just as Crick and Watson were proving how important DNA really is, and Asimov corrected this oversight as soon as he could, but it leaves a major hole in the story.

And, of course, it’s forty years out-of-date. I’m not aware of any instance where more recent discoveries have made anything in the book actually false, but there is much interesting that gets left out. This isn’t Asimov’s fault by any means, but it does make the book more of interest as a historical relic than anything else. It’s worth reading—to read Asimov, not to find out about biochemistry.

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