3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Just over 150 years ago the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev had the idea of collecting the elements together with similar properties and seeing if he could organise them in diagrammatic form. At this moment in time, only 62 elements had been discovered and no one knew if that was it if there were more to be discovered. He decided to arrange them in order by atomic number in a long line.

The key to his breakthrough was noticing that certain elements had broadly similar properties, so he took his line and started cutting it into shorter sections to line these up. His new table had a series of elements, sodium, lithium and potassium all on the left-hand side. From this, he developed his periodic law that argued that elements with similar properties occur at regular intervals. He published it in 1869 but continued to work on it and it was this extra work that both solved the puzzle but also created more questions. He realised Arsenic was in group 13, but its properties fitted group 15 better, so he moved it along. This left gaps, but in those gaps would be other elements, but these hadn’t been discovered yet.

In 1913 Henry Moseley proved that the order of the periodic table needed to be the atomic number, not the atomic mass, this revelation led to the discovery of more gaps in the table and the only logical thing to conclude was that there were unknown elements that still hadn’t been discovered. This simple table revealed so much about each element, the groups that they occupied and the way that these interacted with each other.

Almost everybody has heard of some of the elements, but there are lots that most people would have never heard of nor were even aware that they existed. Chemists have been discovering them for years, but it is only with the help of this brilliantly conceived table that they knew where to start looking for them. In this book, Russel has ordered them in ascending atomic number and collected some of the histories behind their discovery, a small table of facts and other interesting facts, such as why some elements have an utterly different letter to their given name.

It is a nicely put together little book that gives a good overview of each one of the elements along with detail on how they were discovered and by whom, those that have changed their name, for example, one well know element used to be called wolfram. This is a good place to start, but for those that want much more information than this, I can recommend The Periodic Table by Hugh Aldersey-Williams which is much more expansive.

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