That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles by Dr. Joe Schwarcz
When a chemist writes a book with this title, you know he is going to explain to you in chemical terms, exactly, how the cookie crumbles. Dr. Joe Schwarcz, renowned science promoter and professor at McGill University in Montreal, has decades worth of experience dealing with the public, enshrouded by misinformation to varying degrees of hilarity. Some of the most outrageous claims (presented in this book) include: “this energy breaks large water molecules into smaller ones, releasing trapped toxins in the process.” The dybbuk of hogwash and balderdash spares no uninformed soul.
The book itself is like a collection of short stories, divided into four categories: Healthy Science, Everyday Science, Looking Back, and Poppycock. These categories pretty much speak for themselves; the chemistry of food, the chemistry of households appliances, historical chemistry and demystifying the bullshit of mountebanks who make fortunes of those they manage to maliciously misinform.
The short stories offered in this book make good sense as they all tackle subjects that hit close to home. These include microwaves, oatmeal, sweeteners, ice cream, spinach, GMOs, alcohol, nerve gas, well you get the picture; everyday stuff. The anecdotes and bits of history in each chapter are mesmerizing and make it a difficult task putting the book down. If I had to choose a favorite it would be in the chapter concerning the bacterial flora of our intestines. To cure a case of severe diarrhea, Dr. Lawrence Brandt of the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, mixed stool samples from the patients husband in saline and deposited them at 10 cm intervals along the patients colon. This restored the microflora in the patients gut and she was cured. Seriously… this happened… in real life… seriously…yes.
If I had to complain about anything in the book, I’d say that some of the subjects felt more skidded through than others. The chapter about Fritz Haber, the father of gas warfare and mass production of crop fertilizer, is a mere 3-4 pages and his complex and malcontent relationship with his first wife is summarized in only one sentence. But again, if this is to be a collection of short accounts, then delving too deep can land you in… well deep.
The chapters in ‘Looking back’ and ‘Poppycock’ could all have been longer and more numerous. But as it stands, The Way the Cookie Crumbles is a delightful and informative read. Dr. Schwarcz tells it like it is, whether the subject is light at heart or as weighty as death. As a science educator myself, I will have to browse through this book several times more to help me remember all the funny anecdotes, like Dr. Kellogg’s yogurt colonoscopies, the discovery of phosphorous by the inspection of dried up urine, and more.