Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review: The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction

A blurb on the inside cover of this book declares that this Oxford Very Short Introductions series is "the thinking person's Wikipedia." I disagree, because in the most important way, it's the exact opposite of Wikipedia: it's written by one person, solely from that person's point of view. But it is indeed written at the level of detail of a Wikipedia entry, with more emphasis on history than on current usage.

It's well worth reading, and I say that as someone who teaches the subjects covered here in a fair amount of detail. It's also less than 150 pages long and small enough to fit in one's pocket. Eric R. Scerri gives a brisk tour of layout and history from a scientist's point of view, technical but not arcane or dry, and then knows when to stop.

The only repetitive part for me was describing when history was repetitive, making new elements by melding atomic nuclei together, making elements so new that numbers not names are the only memorable thing about them. Is that really chemistry, or is it physics?

At any rate, I will be looking for other members of this series in the future. And by that I mean both the Very Short Introductions and the periodic table.

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