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Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements Paperback – 25 Aug 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Rev Up edition (25 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199605637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199605637
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 4.1 x 15.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 181,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Personal details first: I'm married to Joan and we have two married children and four grandchildren. I now live in Ampthill in Bedfordshire to which we moved after living in London for 35 years. (Joan was deputy head teacher in Hampstead Garden Suburb School.) I am a writer, contributing articles to magazines as well as writing books. I also have a website johnemsley.com where I've deposited a lot of my articles including some fun ones that were published in newsletters.
Career details: I was a student in Manchester and did a PhD there in the 1960s. I was a lecturer in chemistry at King's College London for 24 years and produced more than 100 original research papers.
I became a full-time science writer in 1990, and was Imperial College's Science Writer in Residence from 1990-97, during which time I wrote a column for The Independent newspaper called Molecule of the Month.
From 1997-2002 I held a similar position in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge when I produced its newsletter Chem@Cam.
I began writing popular science books while at Imperial College and the first of these was The Consumer's Good Chemical Guide which won the Science Book Prize of 1995. Then followed Molecules at an Exhibition, Nature's Building Blocks (now in its second edition), The Shocking History of Phosphorus, Vanity, Vitality & Virility, The Elements of Murder, Better Looking, Better Living, Better Loving, Molecules of Murder, and A Healthy, Wealthy, Sustainable World.
My latest book is a short novel, Islington Green, which is based on the themes of A Healthy, Wealthy, Sustainable World, and I did this in the hope that it might reach a wider audience. It's available as an e-book and priced £1.99.
My popoular science books have been translated in most other languages, including Korean and Thai, and in 2003 I won the German Chemical Society Writer's Prize. Over the years, I've taken part in radio programmes and acted as an advisor for TV programmes which involved chemistry. One of my more interesting consultancies was to assess the claims being made in television adverts where these involved household chemicals, a job I did for 12 years.

Product Description

Review

Emsley's design, layout and presentation is logical, clear and beautifully written. The introduction itself is both informative and full of unexpected, yet valuable information . . . I would recommend the work particularly as an essential bookshelf companion for all teachers of chemistry and as a project resource for students of all levels. (Chemistry in Britain March 2002)

. . . [an] astonishingly comprehensive survey of nature's fundamental ingredients . . . (New York Times 02/04/2002)

A readable and entertaining guide . . . Doubles as both an accessible reference source and an enjoyable and fascinating 'dip into' read. (Materials World 01/12/02)

What for many might be a dry and dusty collection of facts has been turned into an amusing and finely crafted set of mini-biographies. . . . This is a fine, amusing and quirky book that will sit as comfortably on an academic's bookshelf as beside the loo . . . (Nature, 01/11/01)

. . . fascinating book . . . deeply useful for both teachers and students of chemistry, at almost any level . . . (New Scientist, 11/08/01)

This book is like a bar of Cadbury's chocolate: You can't eat just one square. Having said this, I think this is a wonderful book for scientists of all persuasions (Andrew R. Barron, C & EN)

About the Author

John Emsley won the Science Book prize in 1995 for his

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Kerr TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
Natures Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide To The Elements, is an outstanding book, and quite possibly the greatest science book I've ever read. It is filled with countless fascinating facts, such as why an octopus has blue blood and why some people can consume more than twice the lethal dose of Arsenic and live. It really is an excellent reference book for anyone interested in chemistry, biology, nutrition, medicine, or history, and you'll find yourself going back to it time and time again. It does get `slightly' scientific in places such as when it starts to talk about the various isotopes of an element, so some basic knowledge of chemistry is recommended. But it is not overly technical so it's not essential. The sections I enjoyed the most were the `medical elements' which I found extremely interesting. The book is very well structured and easy to follow. This is the kind of book that makes you feel smarter, a true joy to read and I recommend to all. No one could possibly be disappointed.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 Mar. 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book like a novel. It describes all the elements, in alphabetical order, with the history of their discovery, their economic use, their role in animals, the environment, and medicine, and their chemisty. I particularly enjoyed the "Element of surprise" section. There is also a short but fascinating description of the history of the discovery of the Periodic Table. This book can probably be enjoyed by someone without any scientific background whatsoever.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Ross Cloney on 29 Aug. 2003
Format: Paperback
Anyone from a chemistry geek (ie, me) to a person just curious about the world around them would find something to enjoy in this encyclopedic exploration of all the elements, natural and manmade. Even the rarest elements have a detailed entry, explaining their role in the environment, society, and an interesting fact. The "Element of Surprise" fact is perhaps the best treat of the book, showing an unexpected side to each atom. Along the way, a firm grounding in the history of chemistry, scientific measurements, and particle physics is given in easily accessed language. A perfect reference book to enjoy and then trot out when a lull in conversation demands an obscure anecdote about magnesium.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Hercule Poirot on 21 Mar. 2009
Format: Paperback
When I first bought this book, I was a little sceptical. Was I really going to find the courage of reading through all the elements of the periodic table, including Hafnium and Niobium? And even if I did, was I going to enjoy it? Well, thanks to the talent of John Emsley, the answer is yes. Sure enough, you can't beat the old good elements like Iron, Gold, Oxygen and Carbon, and, yes, I did struggle with the like of Dubnium, Hassium and Meitnerium, but altogether, the book reads like a novel. The author manages to stir our interest with surprising anecdotes about the elements (see "element of surprise"). Interestingly, the nuclear origin of the elements is also discussed: Three elements were made in the "big bang", light elements up to Iron were made by stars such as the sun, and heavier elements were made by larger stars and supernovae. A very rich book indeed with many different topics for everyone's taste.
An idea for the next edition: A miniature version of the periodic table showing the position of the element in question would be greatly appreciated; this would avoid the tedious task of referring to the back pages and would help with the learning process.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sir Barnabas VINE VOICE on 30 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
Its been pretty thoroughly reviewed already but essentially the author takes each of the first 100 elements (those with an atomic number over 100 are lumped together in a chapter of their own) and details such things as its chemical properties, how it acquired its name and a history of its discovery, how the element is produced within stars, its role in human biology, any nutritional role, medicinal uses, military uses, its economic importance, environmental impact as well as any unusual or curious trivia e.g. Antimony pills being sold as re-usable laxatives in the middle ages!

There are also appendices on the periodic table, its development, basic atomic structure and a chronology of the discovery of the elements.

It actually makes very interesting reading and is one of those books that is equally good as a basic work of reference but can also be picked up and dipped into at any time. A welcome addition to my bookshelf!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. Baker on 9 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a chemistry teacher, this book is quite simply excellent. Whatever element you need to know about, its here - and not just boring facts. Its written in a style that draws you in - and before you know it, you have looked up 3 or 4 more elements just out of interest. Well worth the money - a great book to dip in and out of.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Dec. 2001
Format: Hardcover
I am a student studying A-Level Chemistry and this was bought as a gift for me by my former Chemistry teacher. As I am particularly fascinated by the elements, I loved all of this book! It is as it says; easy to read, whether you are knowledgeable on Chemistry or not.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By K. B. Jackson on 22 April 2012
Format: Paperback
As a trainee chemistry teacher I have found this book invaluable. It has provided a massive amount of background material, which I can inform the class about when throwing chemical names at them. useful anecdotes about when the different elements were discovered etc. to the extent that now I get lines of pupils asking loads of questions at the end of lessons because they want to know more. One did answer answer a question "I can't remember the elements name in English but I think its Wolframite in German".

As a bit of a geek who likes to know more than just an element's chemical properties it's really good. Also for cross fertilisation with the history syllabus you can tie science with the pupils history classes. A quick chat to the history teacher what period are Yr 7, 8 etc doing at the moment and yo have a starter for the next lesson. What element was discovered in...? What can it be used for? etc. etc.
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