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The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance Hardcover – 16 Nov 2006
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...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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"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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