Book Review: The Elements, an Illustrated History of the Periodic Table

ElementsI wish I had a book like this when first taking chemistry in high school or even during my five semesters of college chemistry. This book is entertaining, clearly written, and profusely illustrated (there are illustrations on every page) and it’s big: 9.25″ by 11.2″ 144 pages plus a 24 page foldout.

The book is much more than the title implies. It is a history book tracing man’s discovery and use of the natural elements. The Periodic Table is just a method of classification that allows one to predict an element’s properties. The book deals with science, scientists and discovery. “Knowledge does not arrive fully formed. We have to work at it, taking it in turns to consider the evidence and offer our take on it.”

The book begins with Stone age chemistry (“Fire, paints, and bread making are all examples of chemistry in action”) and finishes with the probable discovery of the Higgs boson in 2011. In between, the book deals with “100 breakthroughs that changed the world” and “who did what, when.”

The second to last chapter gives a concise tutorial in the basics of chemistry, which includes subjects such as atomic structure and chemical bonding. The book finishes with very brief biographies of the great chemists of history.

The Elements presents a concise history of scientific discovery which gives you an appreciation of how ideas evolved, how “magic” turned to alchemy, then to chemistry. It traces the thoughts of philosophers as they pondered the natural world. A pocket in the back of the book contains an 8-foot-long foldout which shows the history on the front and a chart of the elements on the back. The Elements would serve as a good reference book.

The author, Tom Jackson, is a science writer with over 80 books to his credit. He studied zoology at the University of Bristol, U.K. where he resides.

Adults with an interest in science and science history would enjoy this book. I think the book would be valuable to Junior High and High School students, as well as college students, especially those studying the Philosophy of Science.

The book is published by Shelter Harbor Press, New York and can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Elements is one of the publisher’s “Ponderables” series. Other books in this series (which I have not seen) are:

An Illustrated History of Numbers. Editor: Tom Jackson

An Illustrated History of Astronomy By Tom Jackson

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