The Chemist Who Lost His Head Essay - Critical Essays

Vivian Grey


The Chemist Who Lost His Head is a successful depiction of the life and work of an exceptional scientist. Grey’s prose is simple, direct, and very readable, with its simple sentences and short paragraphs. Both scientific achievements and political events receive clear explications. Grey’s portrayal of the two Lavoisiers is engaging, and her presentation of the political and social upheavals provides the context for the scientific work of the couple. While the book’s main emphasis is on Lavoisier’s scientific discoveries, the time in which he lived was so dramatic that many young readers may become entranced with this aspect of the book.

A highlight of Grey’s narrative is the attention given to Marie Lavoisier. Because most books on Lavoisier do not consider his wife in detail, Grey’s book is refreshing. The marriage of the Lavoisiers was a love match from beginning to end, and their scientific collaboration was a close one. Grey also uses Madame Lavoisier’s sketches to make her account more vivid.

Grey portrays the Lavoisiers as admirable people: They are likeable, concerned with society and how to better it, and brilliant at science. The other characters in the book, however, are not examined sufficiently to appreciate or understand their actions and ideas, especially the scientists who opposed the new chemistry of Lavoisier.

The main value of the book depends on how well Grey has handled Lavoisier’s career as a chemist, and...

(The entire section is 608 words.)