Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Elemental: How the Periodic Table Can Now Explain (Nearly) Everything
By Tim James
Abrams Press, 2019. 216 pages. Nonfiction.

Our universe was formed 13.8 billion years ago. As the unorganized soup of particles cooled after the Big Bang, the elements were born. James recounts the history of the elements, from the ancient Greeks to the contemporary scientists who have created new elements in labs to complete the table.

This light-hearted book is nothing like the boring chemistry class you slept through in high school. Telling the story of the elements, James uses facts to answer questions like:
  • What is the chemical formula for a human being? 
  • How many bananas can you eat before you die of radiation poisoning? 
  • How did the medieval dream of turning lead into gold become a modern reality? 
I'm a big nerd, even by librarian standards. Before beginning my career as a librarian, I studied chemistry and even earned a BS in Chemistry. So, of course a new book about chemistry would pique my interest. But this one isn't just for people who get excited about chelation, dimers, and coordination complexes. (Don't judge me.)

I found this to be a refreshing history and outline of chemistry, covering a broad range of topics in a fun and interesting way. Unlike other books about hard science, Elemental is very accessible and doesn't get weighed down with confusing jargon or mathematical details. Without reservation, this is the most delightful book I've read about chemistry in several years. Even if you have zero background in science, this book will make for an entertaining exploration of the building blocks of the universe, without even leaving your home.


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