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Nature's Building Blocks: 03/30/11

cover art

Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley has a beautiful cover. It's a guide to the periodic table that's laid out like the London A to Z. It sounded like a nifty idea to me so I decided to give the book a try.

I have to say that after working my way through the the letter A entries, I decided that alphabetical just isn't the most logical way to read a casual book about the periodic table. The problem is that the table as it's currently laid out by atomic weight makes sense. Sure the names aren't in alphabetical order but one can see how the elements are related to each other and why certain groups of elements behave the way they do. Taken out of their placement, that building logic is missing and the elements described seem random, illogical, confusing and baffling.

The other problem I had with the book is its one size fits all approach to the elements. Every element is described by the same rubric (things like toxicity, medical uses, and so forth) whether or not everything in the rubric applies. Shoot, I might as well have been reading a spreadsheet with the boxes ticked for different categories.

The book could have been better, even still kept in alphabetical order, if the different pieces of the periodic were color coded on the edges of the pages, the book would be useful for readers expecting that order. It would also give a good visual for readers learning about the table and elements.

The other thing I would have done differently is do away with the rubric or at least make it more flexible. Personally I would have gone with paragraphs with sidebar of the most interesting chemical features or trivia. Color photographs would have been good too. Or even some illustrations!

Two stars

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