BOOK REVIEW: The Periodic Table Book by Dorling Kindersley
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Science / Juvenile Reference
The Periodic Table Book is the perfect visual guide to the chemical elements that make up our world.
This eye-catching encyclopedia takes children on a visual tour of the 118 chemical elements of the periodic table, from argon to zinc. It explores the naturally occurring elements, as well as the man-made ones, and explains their properties and atomic structures.
Using more than 1,000 full-colour photographs, The Periodic Table Book shows the many natural forms of each element, as well as a wide range of both everyday and unexpected objects in which it is found, making each element relevant for the child’s world.
There’s no doubt that there’s an abundance of books about the elements out there, and there is only so much that can be phrased in different ways to present a slightly unique product while adhering to the same basic structure. But it quickly becomes clear upon opening The Periodic Table Book, that a lot of thought has gone into the structure here.
Readers are given an overview of the building blocks of our universe, the discoveries that are keystones in the history of the elements, and reactions, plus a periodic table in the book itself, and a bold and easy to read poster of the periodic table to stick on your wall.
The idea of elements is very old, dating back about 2,600 years to ancient Greece. However, Greek thinkers believed that the world was made of just four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Empedocles, an influential scholar, was the first to propose that these elements made up all structures. Only much later did scientists learn that none of these are actually elements.
However, it’s when you get to the individual listing of the elements that this book really distinguishes itself.
Rather than listing elements in order of atomic number, as so many of these books do, this book groups them based on the similarity of certain physical and chemical properties:
- Alkali Metals
- Alkaline Earth Metals
- Transition Metals
- The Boron Group
- The Carbon Group
- The Nitrogen Group
- The Oxygen Group
- The Halogen Group
- Noble Gases
Of course, this sorting of the elements does mean that in any given group, the numbers might jump drastically, and it can feel like you’re crossing back over yourself at times, at least to someone who learnt from a book that ran in order of atomic number. The Noble Gas group, for example, contains the atomic numbers: 2, 10, 18, 36, 54, 86, and 118, but the Transition Metals group runs 21-30, jumps to 39-48, then 72-80, and 104-122.
Again, this will be no surprise to those who have memorised the periodic table, and it does beg the question as to which is the better way to learn. But perhaps this method is a better way to introduce our future scientists to the long list of elements, as it makes it easier to see just why these elements were grouped with one another. The pull-out poster is also bound to help paint a fuller picture without confusing anyone too much.
For each element, there are full-colour images of the element, the mineral/habitat in which it is found, and a range of uses in our modern world. There is also a handy key in the corner of each page that gives you the run down on the protons, electrons, neutrons, the element’s place in the periodic table, its state at 20°C, and the year of discovery.
The text that accompanies these images (often no more than a couple of paragraphs of easy to understand and interesting information) usually divulges how the element was discovered or is created, and its range of uses, both past and present.
It’s also interesting and rather bizarre to read about various elements used in food, medicines, creams, and eating utensils that were later discovered to be poisonous.
Luminous paints, like those used to make watch dials glow in the dark, were created using radium. People working with this paint often became ill, especially with cancer, because the radiation produced by radium damages DNA. Nevertheless, until the 1940s, many people thought radium’s radioactivity made them stronger, not weaker.
They injected themselves with vials containing a radium compound, believing it gave them an energy boost. They also thought that creams and cosmetics with radium in them made the skin healthier, even though they did exactly the opposite.
Until the early 18th century, mercury was used in pills for treating some common ailments. It gradually fell out of use when it was found to be toxic.
All in all this is a well presented book that can pull its own weight in the arena of books about the elements, but is also accessible for young and future scientists as well as those of us who have let our knowledge of the periodic table slip a little in the years since school. For so little text on each page, there is a surprising amount of information to be found here, meaning it is adaptable to the reader in question and allows some room to grow.
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