Encyclopedia of the elements

Encyclopedia of the elements
Per Enghag
Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH 2004 | Pp 1243 | ?180 (HB) | ISBN 3527306668
Reviewed by Gavin Johnstone

This encyclopedic work is an enhanced English translation of Jorden’s grundamnen published in three volumes in Swedish between 1998 and 2000.

It consists of a vast collection of information on the chemical elements, but unlike most such reference works it goes beyond just listing properties and chemical facts. It is full of interesting historical information, anecdotes and fascinating asides that illuminate the subject and amuse the reader in equal measure. The reader is given a fresh insight into what lay behind the discoveries of the elements, the diversity of their uses and applications, and how man has interacted with them throughout history.

Examples include tin in history, arsenic poisoning (or not) of Napoleon, emerald for gemstones, colour and sparks in fireworks, gallium in LEDs, scandium and agricultural chemistry, famous diamonds, lead in water pipes and kitchen pans, amalgams in dental fillings etc. This book would be dipped into on a regular basis by students, school teachers, researchers and chemical historians alike.

The problem with the book, however, is that it falls between two stools. If it is intended for library/school/corporation purchase it lacks the quantity of hard data and literature references that would be expected of a multi-user reference work. If, on the other hand, it is intended for individual teachers, students and researchers the price at ?180 would probably be prohibitive.

Nevertheless if you would like to give a fellow chemist a Christmas present - and money is no object - I am sure that this book would be much appreciated.