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The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance Hardcover – 16 Nov 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (16 Nov. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195305736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195305739
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.5 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 248,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

...valuable for students and teachers in sciences, as well as in the philosophy, and any other discipline that has some reference to chemistry. (Ivan Juranić JSCS)

Every chemist educator should read this book..[...] By writing this book and describing his philosophy, Scerri has done us a significant service. He has prompted us to think and argue. We need not agree with every conclusion he draws, but his ideas will certainly set us thinking, which, of course, is what good science is all about. He has broadened our minds. (Struc Chem 2008)

Eric Scerri's first book is timely, fluently written, and full of interesting ideas. This book is essential reading for any school chemistry teacher and is recommended for college or university chemistry lecturers. (Metascience (2008) 17:155-157)

Every chemist should read this book. It will also prove valuable for those who teach chemistry. By writing this book Scerri has done us a significant service. (Chemical Educator, Volume 12. No.6, 2007)

Strangely, relatively few books have been devoted to it, [the Periodic Table] which makes Scerri's particularly welcome - all the more so since not only does he recount events leading up to its discovery, but also analyses its underlying meaning and implications. (John Emsley, TLS)

This is undoubtedly a book that every practising chemist and chemistry educator should read because of its far-reaching implications for understanding the nature of the periodic law and the challenges it presents to contemporary portrayals of the Periodic Table. (Kevin Berg, Newsletter of International History, Philosophy and Science Teaching Group)

...the quality is not merely skin deep, there is a real scholarship inside...I would have been proud to have written this book rather than just contributing one image. (Gordon Woods, Education in Chemistry,)

A book that is truly the definitive work in its field: The Periodic Table by Scerri. (Foundations of Chemistry, Vol 9, 2007)

It is an essential item on every chemist's bookshelf. (Foundations of Chemistry, Vol 9, 2007)

To a chemist, the periodic table is a tool and Leitmotif in the same way that word and letters are the trade of the literary world. Like most tools, constant use and exposure tends to make one blase about the inherent and intellectual beauty. In this book, Eric Scerri manages to walk the delicate balance between academic rigor and a gripping story in presenting the history and philosophy of the periodic table. This is a book that anyone with an interest in science in general and chemistry in particular should read. (Ed Constable, Switzerland, Amazon UK, 14 January 2007)

...well written and represents a valuable new compilation of existing knowledge on the subject. (Denis Rouvray, Chemistry World, 1 May 2007)

Eric Scerri is something of a rara avis. Scerri's philosophical orientation enriches the text by raising a number of thought-provoking issues ... The book under review here is clearly and engagingly written and meticulously researched with 42 pages of notes. (Journal of Chemical Education, 2007.)

From the Author

The book is written at a general level equivalent to
Scienctific American articles. I trace the history of modern chemistry and
modern physics through the persepctivce of the development of the periodic
system. The book takes a historical and philosophical approach to the
scientific issues and includes a discussion of the extent to which chemical
periodicity has been 'reduced' to fundamental physics, namely to quantum
mechanics. The audience for the book is very wide including chemists,
physicists, historians of science, philosophers of science, science
educators, geologists, astronomers and astophysicists and biologists. The
periodic table is one of the most potent icons in chemistry and indeed in
the whole of science. No other branch of science than chemistry possesses
anything remotely like it. One comprehensive chart that organizes a vast
body of knowledge and which is as relevant to this day as it was when it
was first discovered in the 1860s by a number of independently working
scientists. Mendeleev was by no means the only discoverer, although he is
the most significant of them because of what he did to establish the
validity of the periodic system.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
To a chemist, the periodic table is a tool and Leitmotif in the same way that word and letters are the trade of the literary world. Like most tools, constant use and exposure tends to make one blasé about the inherent and intellectual beauty. In this book, Eric Scerri manages to walk the delicate balance between academic rigor and a gripping story in presenting the history and philosophy of the periodic table. This is a book that anyone with an interest in science in general and chemistry in particular should read.
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Format: Hardcover
The periodic table is one way of representing the periodic system, but there are plenty of other two and three-dimensional models. Van Spronsen's book, The Periodic System of Chemical Elements, is an indispensable guide to all of them, as they stood in 1969. This book is not a successor to van Spronsen's but a complement to it. The first half of the book gives a very good account of the lead up to Mendeleev's tables and the reception of them. There are then several excellent chapters on more recent developments, including the discovery of further transuranian elements, of which only 13 were known in 1969, the use of sophisticated new methods to calculate electronic orbitals, the effect of relativity on the chemical behaviour of heavy elements, and the revived interest in Charles Janet's revolutionary table. But there is a great big bit missing in the middle of the book, where, apart from an image of Crookes's 'pretzel', virtually nothing is said about the history of representations of the periodic system. For all those you will need to find a copy of van Spronsen after all.
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Format: Hardcover
The book begins with an overview of the importance of the Periodic Table, taking the reader on a journey of the early development of the chemical elements and their classification from Lavoisier, Boyle and Dalton and Cannizzaro to Mendeleev, Bohr and Lewis and Bury.

Unsurprisingly, the book has gained much praise and it's easy to see why. It's informative, but Scerri's style is informal and engaging and it's no wonder it's been labelled as a must read for all chemists, but it's certainly an equally enjoyable read for anyone with an interest in chemistry and the Periodic Table.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very good book if one is interested in the elements ,which I am , but be warned it can be a bit technical in places ,a moderate background in chemistry would be helpful in reading this book .
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars 18 reviews
57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Patterns 4 Jan. 2007
By Bruce Crocker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Humans are exquisitely good at finding patterns. Sometimes those patterns turn out to be illusory, such as the constellations. Sometimes they turn out to be very real, such as the patterns illustrated by the periodic table of the elements. Eric Scerri, in his book The Periodic Table, has done an excellent job of presenting a "warts and all" history of the periodic table. Instead of presenting the "heroes only" version of the history of the periodic table [speaking of illusory patterns] found in most high school and college textbooks, he gives us a full historical view with all the players, big and small, and shows how even ideas that turned out to be wrong had a positive effect on getting us to the periodic table we use today. Although scientists may someday show that the periodic table ultimately reduces to quantum mechanics, Professor Scerri shows us why we can't say that with the level of certainty with which it is often presented in chemistry classes [the next time I find chemistry among my preps at the high school where I teach, I will be much better prepared to deal with the periodic table]. The interested lay reader should find the book quite accessible, but a knowledge of high school chemistry, especially in the later chapters where electron configurations are presented [idea for the paperback - include an appendix that covers some chemistry basics like electron configurations], will help. Knowledge of the terminology used in the study of philosophy will also help the reader. This book should be of interest to folks with an interest in the history and philosophy of science, even if they don't have a specific interest in chemistry and the periodic table, especially fans of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I strongly suggest that The Periodic Table become required reading for all high school chemistry teachers! John Emsley is still my favorite writer on chemical topics, but Eric Scerri moves to a place not far behind.
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant achievement 28 Dec. 2006
By tianyan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Scerri's work is a rich and fascinating account of the history, development and current significance of the Periodic Table: if you have any interest in chemistry you should read it. In his book he describes how the Period System was discovered (giving due credit to Mendeleev, but also to many others who deserve their place in the history of discovery),showing how it was received by other chemists. The most interesting part for me is in the brilliant later chapters, where the role of the Periodic System in influencing Bohr's ideas on the atom, and the nature of the relationship between quantum theory and empirical evidence is presented as clearly as you will find anywhere. Chemistry emerges not (as Dirac once claimed) entirely reduced to physics, but as a still-developing science in which quantum mechanics plays an important but not yet wholly reductive role.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An instant classic 3 Jan. 2007
By Gary D. Patterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Periodic Table is one of the most iconic symbols in our culture. Every person interested in the physical world in which we live will want to read this book. It is also a masterful history of the people involved in the establishment of the periodic law of chemistry. The gradual growth in awareness of the regularities of the elements is the main theme of this work. It is already a classic in its first year in print!
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that honors "one of the most powerful icons in science" 12 April 2007
By STEPHEN PLETKO - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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"In spite of the central...role of the periodic table [of the elements], very few authors have felt drawn to write books on its evolution. There is no book that deals adequately with the historical, and especially the conceptual, aspects of the periodic system [that holds that there is a fundamental relationship among the elements] or its significance in chemistry and science generally. It is with the aim of injecting a more philosophical treatment to understanding the periodic system that [this book] has been undertaken...this book is not intended as a work of historical scholarship...the reader is [taken] on an interdisciplinary tour of the many areas of science that are connected with the periodic system, including physics, mathematics, computational methods, history and philosophy of science, and of course, chemistry."

The above is found in the introduction to this fascinating, extremely well researched book by Dr. Eric Scerri, a professor of chemistry and history & philosophy of science at UCLA. This book is fittingly dedicated to the 100TH anniversary of the death of Dimitri Mendeleev (1834 to 1907).

The periodic table of the elements--what is it? Simply, it is basically a two-dimensional representation of a periodic system (that is explained above). The aim of this book is to bring the story of the periodic table "up to date."

This book from my own personal perspective can roughly be divided into five parts:

(I) An overview of the periodic system. (1 chapter)

(II) The development of the periodic table. (4 chapters)

(III) The nucleus and the periodic table: radioactivity, atomic number (the number of protons contained in the nucleus of the atom of an element), and isotopy (isotopes are any of two or more forms of an element having the same number of protons but differing in the number of neutrons). (1 chapter)

(IV) Electronic explanations for the elements of the periodic table: physics versus chemistry. (3 chapters)

(V) Astrophysics, element formation, other chemical trends that defy neat explanations, and three fundamental questions regarding the periodic table. (1 chapter)

One of the key features of this book, as mentioned above, is that it is well researched. However, Scerri goes one step beyond mere information gathering. He actually questions the information he has found. Here are just three examples:

(1) "The notion that the periodic table was deduced from quantum theory by [physicist Niels] Bohr [as the historical record implies] is something of an exaggeration."

(2) "This, I submit, suggests remarkable foresight and intuition on the part of [chemical writer] Gmelin, as does the way in which he uses his system to ground the presentation of the chemistry of these elements. Yet Gmelin's contribution to the classification of the elements has not been sufficiently appreciated of chemistry, or even historians of the periodic system."

(3) Clearly [chemist Dimitri] Mendeleev was spectacularly successful in [his] predictions [of new elements] but perhaps not quite to the extent that is implied by the more selective tables of comparison that regularly appear in chemistry textbooks and even histories of chemistry."

Another feature of this book is the inclusion of the actual writings of key people involved in the development of the periodic table. I found all of these interesting.

Yet another feature is that it is jam-packed with charts, tables, diagrams, etc. so readers can see for themselves what is going on. Some of these tables, etc. are actual copies from historical documents. As well, there are black and white portraits of some of those who contributed to some aspect of the formation and understanding of the periodic table.

The majority of the chapters end with a conclusion that consolidates all the information in a particular chapter. I found these most helpful.

Finally, I feel that this book can be read by all who are interested in the periodic table. However, the author assumes some science background. Many terms are defined in the book's main narrative but many are not. Thus, it would have been helpful if an appendix explaining key terms was also included. As well, a glossary would have been most helpful. Of course, any difficulties can be resolved by referring to a good, standard dictionary or even a basic science dictionary (especially for part IV above).

In conclusion, there are elements of the periodic table that are named after admired others. Examples include Einsteinium and Mendelevium. Eric Scerri has written a comprehensive book that honors the periodic table. Perhaps when a new element is discovered it should be named "Scerrium."

(first published 2006; acknowledgements; introduction; 10 chapters; main narrative 285 pages; notes; index)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Manna for Chemistry-o-philes 31 Oct. 2009
By Razz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
When I was fifteen I began collecting elements as a hobby, mostly by raiding chemistry sets for samples of carbon and sulfur, and writing letters to industries that used or produced them. U.S. Steel sent me some silicon, Bethlehem Steel followed with vanadium, and I soon had an impressive collection. Now, four decades later, I still have my little set of elements, and every so often I take it out and marvel at the vials with their precious contents. Such is my background. Is it any wonder that I would greet a book like this with enthusiasm, and devour it like manna? The Periodic Table is more than a good read, it's a ready reference for anyone seeking to deepen and enrich his or her knowledge of chemical periodicity, which is what Prof. Scerri refers to as one of chemistry's two great, underlying ideas (the other being chemical bonding). As a biology professor, I discuss the elements and periodicity in the section of my course that deals with chemistry. I thought I had it all under control, but after reading this book I found myself revising and updating my notes. Prof. Scerri's work sits in my office, and I refer to it often. I think it will have a long shelf life, because I have seen nothing better on the subject.
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