A whistle-stop tour of the periodic table

Tim James
2018 | 224pp | £12.99
ISBN 9781472140944
Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

A picture showing the book cover of Elemental

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’ll know that 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table. And what better way to mark this than by brushing up on your element knowledge?

Elemental is a whistle-stop tour of the periodic table by secondary school chemistry teacher and first time author Tim James. It covers a lot of the basic principles of chemical elements, compounds and their properties, from flammable and explosive substances to poisons and flavours. It also includes brief introductions of concepts such as atomic theory, quantum mechanics and the arrangement of the elements into the periodic table.

James writes with a light hearted, enthusiastic tone characteristic of some of my favourite teachers at school. He clearly has a lot of passion for chemistry, and the book is packed with interesting titbits and stories from history. However, the structure is a little haphazard. There isn’t really an overarching narrative, and each chapter is split into bite-size chunks – often just a page or two long – that jump rather abruptly from topic to topic.

While the book covers a lot of ground, I would have liked to see a little more depth in some areas. I was already familiar with a lot of the stories it tells, and I imagine most seasoned chemists would be too. It would, however, be ideally suited to younger readers and those new to chemistry.

The worst thing about this book is the hand- drawn illustrations, described optimistically in the blurb as ‘quirky’. Flicking through the book I was horrified by the wonky, low-resolution scribbles. Perhaps they’re meant to complement the author’s down-to-earth style, but this really didn’t work for me. It’s a shame because the writing is decent and the content interesting. Doodles aside, for anyone who complains the periodic table is dry or unexciting, there is plenty in there to convince them otherwise.