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The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe (2009)

by Theodore W. Gray, Nick Mann (Photographer)

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1,754187,851 (4.41)1 / 40
The elements are what we - and everything around us - are made of. But how many elements have you seen in their pure, raw, uncombined form? This book presents photographic representations of the 118 elements in the period table, along with facts, figures and stories about each one.

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» See also 40 mentions

English (17)  German (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
This beautiful book that is both a gorgeous “coffee table book” and an engrossing and informative guide to the 118 known elements makes both a beautiful and educational addition to any house or library.

Each double-page spread is devoted to one element. As the author quotes Lucretius claiming in 50 BC, “There is not anything which returns to nothing, but all things return dissolved into their elements.”

Gray begins with a brief introduction about the periodic table, and then goes through the elements in order. On the far right side of each spread, he gives technical information - atomic weight, density, and the like, but it is the main part of each presentation that is so fascinating.

He tells you what the element is like, how it is used, and some special applications of each. Lithium, for example, “has another trick up its sleeve: It keeps some people on an even emotional keel.” Copper has the second-highest electrical conductivity of any metal. Gallium is used in semiconductor crystals, and is also present in early all light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Phosphate fertilizers, he tells us, “are arguably responsible for the explosion of human populations to the point where water, not phosphorus, is now the limiting factor in many places.” Potassium is critical to nerve transmission in the human body. Bismuth makes up most of Pepto-Bismol. Boron is what gives Silly Putty its ability to be both soft and moldable. Uranium is an ingredient in both “vaseline glass” and Fiestaware.

All of these facts, fun as they are, are secondary to the visual aspects of the book, in which amazing large color photos (by both Theodore Gray and Nick Mann) of both the elements and products derived from them make up the bulk of the presentations.

Evaluation: If you ever thought chemistry was “boring,” you are in for a surprise and an intellectual and visual treat. This book is outstanding, and will stimulate your desire to know more about the elements, and how people figured out how to use them. ( )
1 vote nbmars | Feb 18, 2021 |
I think if I'd had this book years ago, my high school chemistry course would have been less painful. The author here goes through each of the elements (as they existed at the time of publication), and in many cases, shows us examples of the element. (The author collects samples of the elements -- ones that are legal and possible to have, that is.) These are accompanied by occasionally funny asides, but much in the way of practical information. A very clever book, and one I recommend. ( )
  EricCostello | Jan 28, 2020 |
My eight-year-old daughter and I read this aloud cover to cover at bedtime over the course of a month or so. The author is passionate about elements (and element collecting!), and he presents each of them to the reader as though introducing an interesting friend or acquaintance. We learned a lot, and have newfound respect for these mighty building blocks of matter. ( )
  ryner | Jul 25, 2018 |
We've been reading this one, an element a day, since last spring's book fair. Each element of the periodic table has a two-page spread, with excellent photos (mostly of items that the author has collected) and an entertaining and informative blurb describing the history of the element and its uses. A lot of it likely went over Charlie's head, but he enjoyed it nonetheless and exposure to the Coolness of Science is essential, I think. I know *I* certainly enjoyed it; Gray is a hoot and we laughed out loud in some spots at his clever quips. ( )
  scaifea | Sep 23, 2016 |
Never though I'd say this: I had a fun time reading this book. I bought it for my roommate to read who loves the periodic table. The enthusiasm of the author comes gloriously through each page. I had a ball. ( )
  newnoz | Aug 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Because The Elements is, indeed, foremost a thing of beauty. It's actually the electronic version of a Gray's 2009 printed coffee table book of the same title, both shimmering with gorgeous images: the versatile element carbon is illustrated by the bright glitter of diamonds, the radioactive element radium is shown through the eerie blue-green glow of a vintage watch dial. But in the e-book version, these come playfully to virtual life. Some of the elements display in video; nitrogen as a flask swirling with an icy mist of the element in liquid form. Or the reader can set the still images spinning, the diamonds flashing, a vial of gold dust rotating front-label to back. The elements can even been seen in 3D if one purchases the special glasses (which I did not). And it includes an audio recording of Tom Lehrer's classic The Elements Song, which I have played so many times that I am now refusing to disclose the number.

In other words, it's game-like fun in a way that a coffee table book, even with same lovely photos by Gray's colleague, Nick Mann, cannot be. And it's worth noting that the e-version is sold as an app rather than an e-book. When I decided to give in and download it, I searched fruitlessly through iBooks before discovering it instead in the App Store (On the Touch Press website, it's offered strictly as an iPad app and an iPhone app.) I settled for the iPad version.

So is it actually a book, you might ask, if it's not even sold in a book store, if it's available on a few limited devices? Isn't one of the great achievements of the print publishing era, the ability to share information universally rather than limit it to a select few? And is my ability to spin a virtual copper necklace in comparable to what I learn from reading about that element in straightforward text? I think The Elements - and its undoubted success - raise all of those questions and more. And I think we're still figuring out the answers along with the future of the publishing business.

But let me briefly make a couple of other comparisons between this and its print version. Both do contain scientific data about each element (atomic number, weight, etc.) In the print book, of course, there's a treasure trove of this right there on the page. In the e-version, there's a compact summary but also much, much more through clicking on the Wolfram Alpha logo. You'll see the logo in the toolbar at the lower right on the image of the Bismuth page I've shown above; it looks like a fancy red star. This represents one of the ongoing tradeoffs as we move away from print - there's less likelihood of casual acquisition of information. But if we do seek out the online data, it's likely to be more current and more detailed - Wolfram Alpha allows you to go beyond its own database through links to a host of additional scholarly sources.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Theodore W. Grayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mann, NickPhotographermain authorall editionsconfirmed
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There is not anything which returns to nothing, but all things return dissolved into their elements. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 50 BC
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The periodic table is the universal catalog of everything you can drop on your foot.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The elements are what we - and everything around us - are made of. But how many elements have you seen in their pure, raw, uncombined form? This book presents photographic representations of the 118 elements in the period table, along with facts, figures and stories about each one.

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