Have you ever read a book in 2 hours and felt that it was the greatest thing you'd read in over a month? Machine by Peter Adolphsen did that for me.
Machine is the precise history of - get ready - a single drop of gasoline, from its genesis as the heart of a prehistoric horse, through centuries of pressure and refinement, until it is diffused as exhaust from the engine of a Ford Pinto driven by a one armed immigrant hitchhiker named Jimmy.
In this span of time we not only learn about the scientific processes rampant in the drop's evolution, but also thoroughly meet every being immediately associated with it. From the horse to whom it gave life, to the immigrant who mined it, to the biology student who pumped it into her Pinto - by the last page they are our new neighbors.
At a mere 85 pages, this is a perfect afternoon read that you can tell everyone about without assigning them a project.
Now you're thinking, "precise, centuries, thorough... 85 pages?" But I assure you, this is proof that it can be done, a story can be both thorough and short - furthermore, it can be done beautifully.
To reiterate: I loved it. Read it.
And the book is darn pretty too.
(Hardcover, $15.00. June 2008)