This book reads as if it were written by an undergraduate using Wikipedia and Google. sIt is heavy on facts (often trivia) and light on conceptual knowledge. Occasional errors of fact contribute to the feeling that the authors often lack a deeper understanding of the material they present.
There are too many speculative uses of "may have" and "could have" for my taste. The underlying conceit, that certain chemicals changed history, is a great overreach, even in the opening discussion of the tin buttons of Napoleon's army.
The following passage from the chapter on nitrogen-based explosives speaks for itself:
"In 218 B.C., the Carthaginian general Hannibal made his way through the Alps with his vast army and his forty elephants for an assault on the heart of the Roman Empire. He used the standard but extremely slow road-building method of the day: rock obstacles were heated by bonfires, then doused with cold water to break them apart. Had Hannibal possessed explosives, a rapid passage through the Alps might have allowed him an eventual victory at Rome, and the fate of the whole western Mediterranean would have been very different."
I counted eight grating mispronunciations of biologic and chemical terms. Otherwise the reader gives an acceptable performance.
I was given a hard copy of this book by a friend and had to read it. It's the first audio-book that I've listened to at 1.5X speed.
Nothing deep here. An enjoyable story set in an interesting world. Well written and well read. But endings are often (always?) difficult. I would describe this one as weak and unconvincing.
The Periodic Table is less about the chemistry of elements than about the history of the development of "the periodic system" and its implications for the philosophy of science. Level of difficulty seems appropriate to upper level undergraduate chemistry majors. (Scerri distinguishes between the periodic system as a theoretic structure and periodic tables as conceptual representations of that system. I suspected he would have preferred a less marketable title more focused on the system than the table.)
I had just finished The Disappearing Spoon by Kean. (I found The Periodic Table while looking for something more rigorous and less conversational.) This was fortunate. I don't believe that I would have been able to follow much of Scerri's history without the foundation given by Kean's accounts of the discovery of the elements.Overall, I found the content interesting, though I lost much by not having a print copy at hand. In addition to not being able to see relevant illustrations, I had difficulty in following the notation of both elements and electron configuration. The discussion of the reduction of the chemistry of atomic structure to quantum physics was new to me and especially interesting.
Overall, I found the author's writing to be stuffy - a word I haven't used in decades. His presentation at times felt like a listing of facts in a long criminal indictment. The choice of an equally dry British English reader did nothing to relief the congestion.The performance was just short of intolerable. Pronunciation was distracting at best. Because the reader spoke British English it was often difficult to tell whether his pronunciation was wrong or was simply British. At times it was obvious. (Consider the question -- How do you tell a chemist from a plumber? Ask him to pronounce "unionized".) Names were also obviously a problem. "Bethe" was pronounced bay-thuh, rather than bay-tuh. (I apologize for the crudity of my phonetic representation.) The pronunciation of the "Heinrich" of Heinrich Herz changed in mid-chapter from Hinrich to Heinrich. Even when given a 'correct' German pronunciation, it was Low German, not High German. I don't know which dialect Herz spoke, but I suspect that the reader didn't either.
A second performance problem, at least for me, was his choice to read literally what was on the page. A knowledgeable editorial decision to make changes which would render the visually comprehensible in a way that was more accessible to the ear would have markedly improved much of the reading. The simplest example is in listing of sequences of elements: what was listed as Si-Ge-Sn would be literally read as S I, G E, S N, but would have been easier to follow if read as silicon, germanium and tin. The numeric strings of quantum electron configurations were completely lost to me. Superscripts were alway read as "to the power of", though I don't believe they ever represented exponents.
If the subject interests you, I would recommend the book, but only in print form.
More art than science, but art for those with some understanding of the science. And I think that may have been the author's intent. I expected science, but credit the author for doing well that which she chose to do.
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