The Chemist Who Lost His Head Analysis

Vivian Grey

Form and Content

With The Chemist Who Lost His Head: The Story of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Vivian Grey has written a biography of an exceptional scientist for young readers that, considering the attention devoted to his wife, is almost a dual biography. In fourteen chapters, Grey portrays the lives of the Lavoisiers from their first meeting through their marriage, scientific collaboration, and Marie Lavoisier’s witnessing of her husband’s trial and execution during the French Revolution. The final chapter summarizes Marie’s life as a widow, a period longer than that of her marriage.

The book begins with Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier’s trial, thereby immediately capturing the reader’s interest. The succeeding chapters proceed through his early life, his scientific career, and the events that led to his execution. Interspersed among the chapters on Lavoisier as a remarkable chemist are chapters on Lavoisier’s role in the government in improving streetlighting, the water supply, and gunpowder; devising the metric system; and reforming hospitals, prisons, and farming methods.

Grey describes how Lavoisier became a scientist. He came from a middle-class family of lawyers and was expected to become one as well. Shortly after becoming a lawyer, however, he abandoned the profession for scientific research, finding science more exciting.

Lavoisier had a gift for experimentation. Grey gives a brief account of the world of eighteenth century...

(The entire section is 469 words.)