It’s that time of year again: Christmas songs are on the radio, the decorations are up and it’s feeling festive!

What better time to sit down and enjoy a great book? To help you decide what to read, we thought we’d compile a list of some of our favourite chemistry books. They’re all full of great stories that you’ll be eager to share!

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History

Jay Burreson and Penny Le Couteur, 2003


In Napoleon’s Buttons, Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson apply their vast shared expertise to bring together chemistry and history. They show how chemistry has helped shape history and can provide a link between apparently unrelated events.

For example, the title refers to the tin buttons used on the uniforms worn by Napoleon’s army during his disastrous Russian campaign. Because tin crumbles at temperatures below 56˚F, their uniforms couldn’t hold together. Would the army have stood a better chance of survival if their uniforms had stayed in one piece?

The book is full of such fascinating stories. Just wait until you find out how one compound played a role in the discovery of North America!

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe

Theodore Gray; photography by Nick Mann & Theodore Gray, 2009

In The Elements, the periodic table is brought to life by popular science superstar Theodore Gray. The book is great for adults and younger readers, so you can share it with all the family. Each of the 118 elements has an amazing full-page photograph dedicated to it. It really is a fantastic coffee table book to dip into between those mince pies!

The Elements is also available as a highly praised app, where each of the 500+ objects in the book can be explored in more detail. Stephen Fry described it as the ‘best app of all… everything is animated and gorgeous’ – if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us!

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles: 62 All-New Commentaries on the Fascinating Chemistry of Everyday Life

Dr. Joe Schwarcz, 2002


Dr Joe Schwarcz is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, which is dedicated to ‘separating sense from nonsense’ and making science accessible to the general public.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles follows a similar vein by using an engaging and straightforward style to show the relevance of science in a wide range of everyday scenarios. He covers topics ranging from aspartame in food to bug juice in ice cream. He also sets out to bust some common science myths and talks candidly about controversial topics like genetic modification.

The Disappearing Spoon… and Other True Tales from the Periodic Table

Sam Kean, 2010


Did you know that tellurium led to a crazy gold rush in Australia, with people mining the streets? Or that Gandhi hated iodine? In The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean delves into the development of the periodic table in a fun and quirky way.

Although the tone is light hearted, it doesn’t detract from its scientific nature. The Disappearing Spoon was even nominated by the Royal Society as one of the top science books when it came out in 2010!

The Periodic Table

Primo Levi, 1975

Despite the fact that you’ve probably heard of it, we couldn’t miss this book off the list. The Royal Institution voted this classic the best science book ever.

Levi uses the metaphor of the periodic table to explore various chapters of his life, from his training as a professional chemist, through to his experiences of fascist Italy and Auschwitz.

The Guardian’s former science editor Tim Radford put it best when he said that the book shows that ‘chemistry is not a subject… it is reality’.

Which chemistry books would you like to recommend? Let us know by sending us a tweet @Radleys

We’ll be back in the New Year but in the meantime have a Merry Christmas!