Four elements: water, air, fire, earth

Four elements: water, air, fire, earth 
Rebecca Rupp
London, UK: Profile Books | 2005 | 373pp | ?16.99 (HB) | ISBN 1861972342 
Reviewed by Mary Daniells

The ancient Greeks saw the world as being made up of the four elements - water, air, fire and earth. These elements are still with us in the way we view the world and the way it interacts with us. Although we now know of the existence of over a hundred distinct chemical elements, our savage earth with its hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, volcanoes and earthquakes shows how completely we are at the mercy of the original Greek elements. 

Rebecca Rupp takes the reader on a fast-moving journey through these elements that informs, fascinates and amuses in equal measure. This is a book with almost everything: history, poetry, information, excitement and some fascinating chemistry. 

Over 80 per cent of the Earth’s biomass lives on water, the first of the Greek elements, and our own bodies are almost completely composed of it. In Four elements: water, air, fire, earth,  we read of drinking water, mineral water, salt water, thermal springs, swimming, snow, ice, refrigeration, rain, waves and tides. 

Air, which we all inhale at a rate of 14-25 breaths per minute, is explored next with hurricanes, windmills, odours, sneezing, pollen, spores, seeds, aeroplanes and ozone levels.

Turning to the third Greek element, Rupp tells us about historic fires, book-burning, burning witches, gunpowder and volcanoes. 

The book finishes with earth, explored in topics such as mountains, rocks, soil, ores, alchemy and primordial soup. 

Understanding the ancient Greek elements helps us to make sense of our physical world and the science of our everyday lives.  

I would recommend this book to all those with a broad interest in science who are fascinated by nuggets of miscellaneous, interconnected information.