Books in Scientia – Periodic Kingdom


2014-02-11 23.50.55

Title and author

The Periodic Kingdom by Peter Atkins

What’s it about?

Good question… it’s about the periodic table. The book is written as though the periodic table is a continent, a new land to be discovered and explored. Atkins plays the role of the anthropologist, describing its trends and intricacies as a scholar who has lived amongst the native tribes, learned their way of life, their history and their governance, and is sharing this knowledge with the reader.

What are the good bits?

Atkins has a unique writing style (that simply infuriated me when battling through his enormous eponymous physical chemistry textbook) which is quite well suited to this interesting premise.

What are the not-so-good bits?

A couple of parts of the book are out of date, in particular mention of the elements joliotium and hahnium. Although the uncertainty surrounding the names of these elements is acknowledged in the text, other names ended up being chosen after the book was published. From what I could find on the all-knowing internets, there were no further editions after the 1995 original to update these details.

Atkins also referred to carbon as the ‘King of Mediocrity’ to which I raise a hearty objection. Or maybe he was being facetious…

What does it say on p147 line 8?

For this part of my reviews I usually choose a page at random, but for this book there was a particular quote from the epilog [sic… WTF is this by the way, isn’t Atkins British? He should know better] I wanted to use.

The real world is a jumble of awesome complexity and immeasurable charm. Even the inanimate, inorganic world of rocks and stone, rivers and ocean, air and wind is a boundless wonder. Add to that the ingredient of life and the wonder is multiplied almost beyond imagination. Yet all this wonder springs from about one hundred components that are strung together, mixed, compacted, and linked, as letters are linked to form a literature

FUCK. YEAH. Chemists, this is our “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Why isn’t this quote famous? The whole freaking world is made of elements. Just elements. That is it. And those elements are OURS. Why are people scared of them? They are amazing. The world is made of elements and they are amazing and it is amazing. The end.

Who should read it?

Despite its clear and easy to understand explanations of the trends of the periodic table, I doubt this would interest those without a chemistry background or a significant interest in the technicalities of the periodic table. I’d be interested to know who Atkins imagined the audience for this book would be.

How good is it?

It’s good, but slightly dated, and the style is something of an acquired taste I presume.

3 squeezy solvent wash bottles out of 5

kingdom stars


2 Comments on “Books in Scientia – Periodic Kingdom”

  1. Russ says:

    It sounds like a pretty interesting premise, but I don’t know if I’d voluntarily read something that Atkins wrote alone. We were also told to use Atkins as our physical chem textbook. I think I opened it twice before dismissing it entirely. A couple of people from OUP came to our uni to get feedback on it and I was one of the students chosen. It was entertaining to watch their faces as we all laid into its writing style and how hard it was to extract useful information from it! But they also brought with them another phys chem textbook that Atkins had co-written with somebody else which was MUCH better, and we all got sent one for free – not sure whether that was in thanks or as an apology…

    • Renee says:

      His style is… unique to say the least. I’m with you about the textbook, but feel this is different. His new book What is Chemistry may be worth checking out too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,912 other followers