The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide To The Elements by Tom Jackson (book review).

There are some books that I wish had when I was young, mostly because we never had such visual representations that allowed so much comparison, like seeing the boiling points of elements collectively in their series. It would certainly have been easier to remember. Tom Jackson’s book, ‘The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide To The Elements’ has a lot going for it. For the sake of this review, all elements will be capped.

The opening sections of this book give you a taste atomic theory and of chemistry and how elements react to give acids and salts, not to mention when they were discovered. People tend to forget just how recent some of these discoveries were. As it’s all done graphically, you also get an idea of the scale of things. For those interested in gems, you will also find the correct chemical names for them and that it is often Chromium, Iron, Copper or Aluminium impurities that give them their colour. Oddly, isotopes aren’t covered until you get to Tin in the ‘Elements’ section which seems odd when it is a common theme to most of the elements and why atomic weight isn’t an exact number but an average of the isotopes contained.

Of course, the bulk of this book is devoted to the elements, detailing their source and application. Although it is hinted at in the earlier sections and only occasionally here, I do think it would have made sense to have had all the discoverers and how each element got its name here as well to make it more of an easy reference. I also wish that a real photograph of each pure element had also been included. When I worked in a lab, we had a massive wall sheet showing the Periodic Table and each of the elements and only when you see them collectively do you realise so few have any actual colour other than silvery.

The town Ytterbia holds the record of having three elements, Ytterbium, Aldebaranium and Cassiopeium named after it. Elements names after places and particularly famous people only came about when there were problems as to what to call them, especially the transfermium elements that have extremely short half-lifes. Indeed there was a tussle between the USA and Russia about what to call some of them until an international agreement was made.

Unusually, under iron, there is no mention of the fact that when you add chromium you get stainless steel. If that’s the only omission I could find then this book is a useful mine of information you can rely on.

Despite the low available of many of the elements, everyone of them has a use, especially in computer technology and monitor screens. If ever there was an argument to ensure proper recycling then this should be at the top of your list because there is so little of them on Earth. Another area that could have been developed more is stating what compounds are used in manufacture as the way its depicted, it appears to be elements in their purest form which could misrepresent things to the younger members of our audience but it could make a potential book for Tom Jackson to do as a sequel as to the most important chemical compounds that we depend on.

A critical problem is the size of some of the text on some pages and how fine the lines are on others. In direct sunlight, the glossiness of the page tends to work against them. Considering that the text is double-lined, it wouldn’t be a shortage of space that they couldn’t have made the text larger or the lines thicker and darker.

I should point out that these are only minor criticisms as there really is a lot of information here to read and absorb that shows how important and how dependent we are on the Periodic Table of elements for our world to function in.

Even if you think chemistry isn’t your subject, you will come away from this book with a better understanding of its importance in your life and not take it for granted.

GF Willmetts

October 2017

(pub: Aurum Press/Quarto. 223 page illustrated indexed oblong hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK), $29.99 (US), $38.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78131-671-9)

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