Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs (Contents)

Joe Schwarcz, Ph.D.
November 1, 2019

McGill professor Joe Schwarcz has come out of the ivy closet with a collection of delightful, instructive, witty and thoroughly accessible essays, none of which requires any formal knowledge. Come as you are. His subjects range from the commonplace molecular magic of shampoos, soybeans, blue jeans, chocolate and tea to the truly lurid: the secret of making zombies with a simple toxin extracted from the sex organs of blowfish, the lethal power of Spanish Fly and the chemical basis of Salem witch hysteria. You’ll learn who put the lime in limelight, what famous laboratory spill created the first plastic (needed to replace rare ivory in billiard balls), how MSG became “the most maligned and misunderstood of all food additives,” why champagne really does get you drunker faster and “absinthe makes the tart grow fonder,” and which compounds are found abundantly in both Camembert cheese and the skin of sweaty feet. There is trustworthy advice on which herbal supplements might work, a hair-raising history of the race to develop the first anesthetic (one contender killed himself; another went insane), and an account of why Schwarcz eats chalk in class. Not to mention the inside story of the CIA’s attempt to use cockroach sex pheromones for spycraft: “The idea was to apply a few drops of this concoction to a person under surveillance and to track that person with a cage containing virile male roaches that would stampede” at a whiff of the stuff. It’s so much fun that you’ll barely notice how much you’re learning.

–Curt Suplee                                  


  • A Quest for the Right Chemistry
  • Evangelists, Mad Scientists, and Kricket Krap
  • An Appeal for Chemical Literacy
Those Fascinating Chemicals!
  • The Lot of Lot’s Wife
  • Basking in the Limelight
  • Boyle’s Law and a High-Flying Elmo
  • “Der Schwarzer Berthold”
  • Movies, Collars, and Billiard Balls
  • Jeanetics
  • John Dillinger, Fake Slush, and Counterfeit Money
  • Playing with Chemicals
  • Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs
  • The Great Phenol Plot
  • The Rise and Fall of a Gas
  • Mentioning the Unmentionables
  • Some Magical Chemistry
Down the Hatch
  • But It’s Natural
  • Living Can Be Fatal
  • An Eye-Catching Story
  • Let’s Have an Apple Day
  • Eggspertise
  • Chinese-Restaurant Syndrome
  • Hot Diggety Dog
  • It’s Always Tea Time
  • Relishing Tomatoes
  • Pour the Bubbly
  • Sole Food Is a Good Idea
  • Soupy Science
  • Soybeans, Cabbages, and Breast Cancer
  • The Feet of God
  • The Food of the Gods
  • This Pulp Isn’t Fiction
  • Vegetable a la ALA
Chemical Crimes
  • A Love Potion Most Lethal
  • Alice in Mushroomland
  • Chemical Witchcraft in Salem
  • Death by Souffle
  • Mad Monks, KGB Agents, and Sleeping Dogs
  • Chemistry for Zombies
Health and Disease
  • Sola Dosis Facit Venenum
  • Anxiety about Anxiety
  • Colorful Wastes
  • Bee Pollen and the Office of Alternative Medicine
  • Fight Crime: Eat Chalk
  • Feeling No Pain
  • Hormones and the Hair Challenged
  • Going Nuts about Selenium
  • Hype, Hope, and Ginseng
  • Vitamin E Gets an A from Researchers
  • The Whiff of Romance
  • Van Gogh’s Brain
  • Around the House
  • Sorting Out the Suds
  • A Solution to Skunk Pollution
  • Coming Clean on Laundry Products
  • The Little Mermaid and Optical Brighteners
  • The Wrong Chemistry
  • Zoolites to the Rescue
Sense or Nonsense
  • Getting a Charge out of Electrical Nonsense
  • Illusion, Delusion, or Solution?
  • Pop Rocks and Exploding Stomachs
  • Stranger than Fiction
  • Colorful Nonsense
  • “Where’s the Aura?” Asks Emily Rosa
The Bottom Line

About the Author

Dr. Schwarcz is director of McGill University’s Office for Chemistry and Society. In addition to teaching chemistry at McGill, he hosts a weekly “phone-in” show about chemistry on Montreal radio station CJAD, writes a weekly column called “The Right Chemistry” in the Montreal Gazette, and has a regular TV feature entitled “Joe’s Chemistry Set” on the Canadian Discovery Channel.

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