Earlier this month, Asahi Kasei Honorary Fellow and Meijo University Professor Akira Yoshino received the Nobel Prize in chemistry alongside two of his American colleagues. Upon receiving the prize, Professor Yoshino stated that he was inspired to become a scientist after reading The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday in response to a question. That book has now been completely sold out in Japan in the days since the Nobel Prize was awarded.
The Chemical History of a Candle is a collection of lectures given by Michael Faraday as part of the annual Christmas lectures at the Royal Institute. Faraday’s contributions to the study of electromagnetism, including his discovery of benzene, can hardly be overstated. The lectures of The Chemical History of a Candle were given during the Christmas holidays and were meant to inspire in the public an appreciation and interest in science. Using the example of a candle, Faraday explained in easy-to-understand terms the chemical and physical processes that take place when something burns.
This book was first translated into Japanese in 1933 by physicist Suketoshi Yajima, but has since been translated a number of times. In fact, a cursory internet search shows that no fewer than six separate translators have published Japanese versions of The Chemical History of a Candle. The most recent translation, by chemist Yoshito Takeuchi, was published by Iwanami Shoten in 2010.
Nobel laureate Professor Yoshino says he read Faraday’s lectures when he was in elementary school at the recommendation of one of his teachers. Ohsumi Yoshinori, Tokyo Institute of Technology professor and 2016 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, also stated in an interview that he read this book as a child, having received it as a present from his older brother. At that time, too, the book enjoyed a sudden surge in popularity in Japan, making this year the second time this has happened. Publishers have announced their intent to publish more copies, so if you haven’t read it yet, now would be the perfect time to get your copy.