Ainissa Ramirez: The Alchemy of Us

Alchemy of Us

Alchemy of Us


Ainissa Ramirez
The MIT Press, April 7, 2020, $27.95
ISBN-10: 0262043807; ISBN-13: 978-0262043809

Ramirez reports:

I’ve been hunting for years for a way to make my specialty, the little-known field of materials science, compelling to general readers. A glassblowing class at the end of a bad workday gave me the answer. After fashioning a hot glass piece, I left my glass class in a much better mood. I was molded by the glass as I was working with it.

This event nudged me to look at how materials and humans interact with each other, and catalyzed The Alchemy of Us. By telling the stories of how inventions came to be—from quartz clocks to silicon computer chips—this book looks at our lives today and unpacks how these technologies shaped us.

Ainissa Ramirez

Ainissa Ramirez

Once I had a book proposal in hand, I sent it to my literary agent, but she could not drum up any interest. I decided to pursue a publisher on my own. A year passed before I had the good fortune to connect with the MIT Press.

When the writing began in earnest, I had to visit numerous archives in the US and in the UK. I learned that some libraries have travel fellowships. Also, when planning my book, I wanted to include about one hundred images. I discovered, much to my dismay, that some pictures cost hundreds of dollars to use. Luckily, I secured a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to offset the cost of these images.

My book took much more time to write than I had anticipated. I was off by a few years. During the research process, I came to understand that finding hidden gems in stacks of books and inches of archival materials requires patience. Writing also takes courage. Sometimes I explored topics that were not part of my original plan, but I used the guiding principle that everything should serve to make the book better. I hope my book enables general readers to gain a deeper connection to the world and to the technologies in it.

Contact info:

MIT Press will hold a virtual book launch for The Alchemy of Us. Ramirez will speak from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. EDT, April 14. Request a free ticket.

NASW members: will your book be published soon? Take advantage of this opportunity for shameless self-promotion. Submit your report for Advance Copy.

Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you began working on your book, or had done differently.


View Advance Copy archives at

Thinking of writing a book? If you are a NASW member, you may access a list of more than 150 books and online resources to help you craft your book proposal, find an agent and funding sources, negotiate your contract, learn about self-publishing, publicize and market your book, and more at

Send book info and questions about book publishing to Lynne Lamberg, NASW book editor,

Hero image by Oklahoma Academy Publishing on Unsplash.

Apr. 8, 2020

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit for information on submitting your report.

Publication of NASW author reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of any publication or the ideas, values, or material contained within or espoused by authors or their books. We hope this column stimulates productive discussions on important topics now and in the future as both science and societies progress. We welcome your discussion in the comments section below.

Biedler Price for Cancer Journalism