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The Elements: A Very Short Introduction (2002)

par Philip Ball

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This Very Short Introduction traces the history and cultural impact of the elements on humankind, and examines why people have long sought to identify the substances around them. Looking beyond the Periodic Table, the author takes the reader on an engaging and entertaining tour: from the Greek philosophers who propounded a system with four elements - earth, air, fire, and water - to the modern-day scientists who are able to create their own.… (plus d'informations)
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Oh to have been a fly on the wall when this book was pitched.

I say that because the title "The Elements" doesn't really tell you much about what the book will contain. How much discussion went into trying to figure out its role? What ideas did they bring up? Perhaps a catalog of elements with descriptions of how they behave and what they are used for, similar to John Emsley's excellent Nature's Building Blocks? Or a description of the physics of atoms? Chemical fun, like Field's Why There's Antifreeze In Your Toothpaste? Or a history of how we discovered the elements?

As it turns out, it's not any of these, but it comes closest to the last. Yet it is a curiously disordered history, talking about the innards of atoms (which we learned about starting in the early twentieth century) before it gets to the Periodic Table (which was discovered a third of a century earlier) and devoting a great deal of time to things such as the four elements of the ancients and the myriad silly things people have done with or for gold. Given how much there is to know about the real elements, iit seems rather a waste to spend so much time on something we know to be false.

In the end, I learned very little from this volume. But then, I'm not really the target of a book like this; I have a fair bit of scientific training. What's more, I enjoy catalogs like Emsley's, and I tend to like the history and mystery of science as it is discovered; all the peeking behind the curtain rather spoiled the book for me. For someone who needs or wants to know just a little about the basic chemistry and physics of elements, there is much that is good here: the initial discussion shows how the idea of "elements" came about, then the middle section describes what they are, and the last few pages describe a few interesting applications. If you want to study the matter seriously, get Emsley and perhaps a good book on Dmitry Mendeleev and another on, say, the discovery of radioactivity. If you just want some light reading, this may be all you'll want. ( )
  waltzmn | Oct 26, 2019 |
Io adoro Philip Ball, è uno scrittore che sa il fatto suo e scrive di scienza come se fosse un lungo e appassionante romanzo. In italiano, per lo meno, i libri di argomento chimico sono pochi, e questo riesce da solo a coprire molti, molti buchi. Le storie su alcuni degli elementi della tavola periodica sono divertenti, interessanti, talvolta esilaranti, tutte istruttive e, il che non guasta, scritte veramente bene. ( )
  Eva_Filoramo | May 3, 2018 |
Not at all what it says it is. Mostly a colletction of science related trivia, interesting but not really helpful, except for the last chapter, which has some interesting bits about semi-conductors and palladium. ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
Not at all what it says it is. Mostly a colletction of science related trivia, interesting but not really helpful, except for the last chapter, which has some interesting bits about semi-conductors and palladium. ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
Engaging, interesting and informative: this is what a Very Short Introduction should be like. ( )
  Tselja | Mar 25, 2010 |
Affichage de 1-5 de 8 (suivant | tout afficher)
"In this companion volume to his Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules, Ball takes on chemistry in its uncombined form--the elements [...] The result is not as fresh or as original as Ball's previous work"
ajouté par wademlee | modifierLibrary Journal, Wade Lee
 

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When I was asked to write an introduction to the elements as a companion volume to my book Stories of the Invisible, itself an introduction to molecules, I had mixed feelings.
In 1624 the French chemist Étienne de Clave was arrested for heresy.
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First published as The Ingredients: A Guided Tour of the Elements, later incorporated into the 'A Very Short Introduction' series under the title, The Elements. (Information taken from verso of title page of The Elements.)
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This Very Short Introduction traces the history and cultural impact of the elements on humankind, and examines why people have long sought to identify the substances around them. Looking beyond the Periodic Table, the author takes the reader on an engaging and entertaining tour: from the Greek philosophers who propounded a system with four elements - earth, air, fire, and water - to the modern-day scientists who are able to create their own.

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