Book Review: The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray | Science News

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Book Review: The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray

Review by Janet Raloff

By
12:14pm, December 18, 2009

A Popular Science columnist has transformed the prosaic periodic table into a drop-dead gorgeous coffee-table book. Each of the first 100 elements gets a stunning spread with a brief bio, including weight, density, uses, emission spectrum and crystal structure, when known. But such details don’t explain why readers will flip through this large-format book. It’s for the pictures.

Elements have two faces, Gray notes: as pure materials and in compounds. In this book he shows both, starting with a full-page image of an element’s pure form. Many appear as silvery bits or dazzling crystals. On the opposite page, Gray describes the element, and photographs depict its uses or compounds in which it’s found. Chlorine’s spread includes an antique vial of medicinal chlorine for inhaling, and sulfur’s presents a red onion with sulfurous scents. Less well-known is the promethium, atomic number 61, in the paint on an old compass.

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