I bought this book for my teenage son last Christmas, then found myself curled up with a cup of eggnog, regaling my family with nuggets of wisdom such as: Did you know that iodine disinfects by brute chemical attack on microbes? And that zinc slabs are attached to bridges and ships to stop them rusting? Or even that bananas are radioactive?
Much more than a book about chemistry, The Elements can only be described in hyperbolic phrases such as “a visual extravaganza.” Each element gets a page or two of remarkable photographs on a deep black background, then a few hundred words of conversational but informative text. The page on copper starts, “Copper is wonderful stuff. Just wonderful,” goes on to “Copper is the only reasonably priced element that isn’t more or less gray” but also reveals that copper has “the second highest conductivity of any metal.”
The elements are photographed in their natural state (if possible) and also in the surprising everyday objects in which they occur, such as strontium in toothpaste and manganese in an antique glazed tile.
If you can’t tell helium from hydrogen and you wonder why NaCl means salt, then this book is definitely still worth browsing as it brings together subjects from history to art to biology such as when the author talks about lead piping in Rome, colorful titanium jewelry and the possible role of potassium in evolution.
If you can recite the first twenty elements of the periodic table and love all things science then this book is for you as well. The side of each page lists an element’s atomic number, weight, density, radius, and emission spectrum, as well as its place on the periodic table and its crystal structure.
For purists, the claim that the book covers “Every Known Atom in the Universe” is, of course, out of date, since scientists have recently named two new elements but that doesn’t detract from this great book, which is a fascinating read but also sneaks in a lot of learning.
Check the WRL catalog for The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe.