The Ingredients: A Guided Tour of the Elements

Philip Ball, Author Oxford University Press $28 (224p) ISBN 978-0-19-284100-1
The periodic table of the elements is a gallery of some of science's most intriguing characters, according to this sprightly tome of pop-chemistry. Ball (H2O: A Biography of Water) traces science's understanding of the building blocks of matter as it evolved from Aristotle's four elements of earth, water, air and fire to our modern assemblage of 109 named elements with associated isotopes, some, such as hydrogen, as old as the stars and others, like an isotope of the unnamed element 111, flitting into existence for just a split second in the laboratory. Instead of giving a comprehensive treatment, Ball focuses on some of the more charismatic elements, including oxygen, an intrinsically""corrosive and destructive"" substance tamed by evolution into one of the basic constituents of life; uranium and plutonium, harbingers of the nuclear age; and gold,""prized like a fashion model for its ability to look beautiful and do nothing."" Along the way, he manages to lucidly and for the most part painlessly impart quite a bit of information on such topics as the structure of atoms, stellar evolution, radio-carbon dating and scientists' embarrassing infatuation with the will-o'-the-wisp of cold fusion. Non-scientists will gain from this book both a vivid impression of the dazzling variety of chemical phenomena and a sense of the order that underlies it. B&w photos.
Reviewed on: 01/01/2003
Release date: 01/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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