The Two Faces of Chemistry
The promise of better living through chemistry has not always been kept. Chemical techniques were used to produce both penicillin and dynamite, penicillin can have harmful side effects while dynamite has beneficial uses. Insecticides have helped alleviate world hunger while they have disrupted global ecosystems. Numerous petrochemicals have made life both easier and more hazardous.
The Two Faces of Chemistry presents a balanced view, weighing the assets and dangers of the whole range of modern chemical compounds and their byproducts, including food additives, "natural" foods, fertilizers, pesticides, drugs and other medications, cosmetics, soaps and detergents, plastics, artificial rubber, fluorocarbons, and leaded gasoline. Caglioti, an organic chemist who has written widely in the popular press, not only makes all this material clear and understandable to readers without technical background but also captures the drama that accompanied the development of new products and the revelation, often years later, that they could lead to devastating results. In each case - for example, in his accounts of "the saccharin mess" and "the Pill" - he carefully sifts through all the accumulated layers of controversy in order to arrive at an unbiased evaluation and assessment of risk.
The book's coverage is worldwide, but most of the data is taken from those countries that use chemicals intensively: the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.
The writer and chemist Primo Levi, states in his Foreword that "underneath the statistics and technical data, which with good reason are plentiful, there flows through this book a silent current of wisdom, educational intent, and morality. While it does not attempt to dictate solutions, by its very character it teaches us how best to go about finding them."
Luciano Caglioti is Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Rome.