Edited by Eric Scerri

Icon Books

2013 | 160pp | £12.99

ISBN 9781848315945

Have it on your bedside table, take an element a day, and this book will last you just about 50 evenings. Or pehaps a bit more, since a few biographies of selected scientists and some introductory pages to the seven chapters, roughly dividing the elements of the periodic table into classes, have been added for good measure.

And will you benefit? Surely. Even periodic table aficionados and hardcore inorganic chemists will find amazing new facts, while the layman is offered captivating, albeit rhapsodic, insights into the world of chemistry and its applications. Which should be the main purpose of the book.

The choice of the ‘50 most significant elements’ must have been a tough one and I’m sure the nine co-authors all would have had different selections in mind. In general these are good picks, although one could argue over the inclusion of copernicium, astatine, polonium, flerovium and element 117 at the expense of, for example, radon. But I may be over-sensitive, living as I do in a part of the world where the latter seeps out of the granite below 

my feet.

Not all of these authors are professional chemists, but nevertheless the texts are highly credible. Occasionally, there are minor points to argue over, such as the use of the word ‘discovery’. I suppose one can think of the periodic table and the transuranic elements as being there for us to discover, but surely Teflon and ion exchange chromatography were invented? 

All things considered, this is a nice addition to the growing number of popular science books dealing with the periodic table. It is obviously not as comprehensive as others but stands apart because of the clever scrapbook-type collages of drawings and photos that illustrate each element. Slightly enigmatic at times, these morsels of elementary information give food for thought before putting your head on the pillow. 

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