James Lovelock: childhood reading of Wade's 'Organic Chemistry'

James Lovelock remembers 'devotional' reading of Wade's 'Organic Chemistry' as a child in the 1920s.

This clip is an extract of an in-depth interview taken from the Oral History of British Science programme.

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Before nine years old I’d started reading books, like Wade’s Organic Chemistry, it was the faithful companion. I would get it all the time. In fact I still carry on the same thing today. I’ve got the Merck Index which is the incredible list of all the chemicals that the company Merck used to sell in America way back in the last, I think it even goes back to the 19th century even. And it’s one of the best descriptive textbooks and is what I call loo reading. I can be happy just going to through it and reminding myself of things. And that was how I, I took Wade’s Organic Chemistry in a very similar way to which a religious child might take the Bible, something to absorb and gain things from. But a little later on of course, I loved to read about compounds that were unbelievably smelly, have vile odours, and longed to have to have the equipment to be able to make them and make a really super stink bomb [laughs] to take along to school, that kind of thing. And like all kids, I was interested in fireworks and bangs and crashes. There was no Health & Safety whatever in those days, and if you blew your hand off in the course of it, well that was very unfortunate and you should’ve been more careful, and all the rest, but there was no inquest.
  • Interviewee James Lovelock
  • Duration 00:01:29
  • Copyright James Lovelock
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 07/04/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/15

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