Top critical review
53 people found this helpful
on 4 March 2011
I love the idea of this book - tales of how the chemical elements were discovered, and how and where they are used in our daily lives.
And there are some fascinating anecdotes, for example how Mendeleev developed the periodic table and how he created spaces where he thought elements should go, only for those elements to be discovered later, sometimes hundreds of years later. He was a genius.
But for all that I found the book disappointing, mainly because of the way it is (or isn't) structured. Aldersey-Williams has tried to structure the book by five themes (power, beauty etc.) but the stories don't really seem to fit those themes very well. As a result, the stories and anecdotes seem unconnected and can get a bit dull. I would have liked to have seen the book structured in a way that relates to the periodic table itself - as it is the whole thing seems a bit random.
A couple of other minor gripes: it would have been lovely to have a contents page set out by element, so that you can refer back to that element. Instead, the contents lists each section of the book, the titles of which are often only an oblique reference to the element the author is writing about. So going back to find the section on plutonium, for example, is quite hard.
Lastly, there are lots of photos in the book, but no captions for these and occasionally its hard to see what the photos are, and which part of the text describes those photos. Again, this detracted from my enjoyment of the book.
All in all, an interesting idea and some fascinating bits, but because the book is poorly structured I found it quite a dull read.