The Elements2stars



Coffee Table Chemistry

By Tom Jackson

Shelter Harbor Press, $24.95, 144 pages

This overview of the basic elements of chemistry looks like something between a high-gloss high school textbook and an odd but not out of place coffee table book. Chock-full of historical discussion, it does not delve into each of the 112 (or so) elements. Rather, it takes a fitful stroll through how the periodic table was constructed. The result provides a fascinating set of explanations, chopped into a linear, less-than-fluid timeline.

“Each story relates a confounding puzzle that became a discovery and changed the way we see the world.”

Each section features a highlighted, but often inconsistent, treatment. Some elements shine in vivid, color photographs, with brief narratives and insights and loopy episodes and interesting scientists, while others seem to be collections of copy-and-paste pastiches from an ordinary encyclopedia. The two concluding sections – one on basic chemistry and the other covering a version of the Chemists’ Hall of Fame – seem like an afterthought.

Still, the book is relatively inexpensive, making it potentially a neat starter text for a budding scientist. Hopefully, it will be enough to inspire someone to dig a little deeper.

Reviewed by Neil Liss

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