When in Rome, the saying goes, do as the Romans do. Swap out Rome for Berlin, and you have the inspiration for Sarah Everts’s newly released book, The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration.
Doing as the Berliners do meant a lot of going to the sauna, says Everts, who was C&EN’s European correspondent from 2007 to 2018 and is now a journalism professor at Carleton University. Those heated hours helped solidify her fascination with perspiration.
“It was kind of amazing to be in a place where everybody’s sweating collectively,” she says, recalling that in the beginning she was a little skeptical of this source of sweat. But after indulging, she says, “there’s like this huge catharsis. You just feel so glorious.”
Everts’s book delves into the science of sweat: the biochemistry of how and why we sweat, the analytical chemistry of what exactly is in sweat, and the organic and inorganic chemistry of our deodorant, perfume, and sweat-soaked fabric. She even explores a little social chemistry, doing some myth busting involving boar pheromones and sports drinks and going to an evening of matchmaking via sweat compatibility.
Sweat is vital, Everts says. And yet it’s a source of human shame dating back as far as those same Romans who inspire our adventurous assimilation. So we asked Everts, a chemist turned journalist turned journalism professor, to enlighten us about our human glow. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.