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The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance

The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance 



  • Eric R. Scerri  


  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (September 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195305736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195305739
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces 


Book Description 

The periodic table is one of the most potent icons in science. It lies at the core of chemistry and embodies the most fundamental principles of the field. The one definitive text on the development of the periodic table by van Spronsen (1969), has been out of print for a considerable time. The present book provides a successor to van Spronsen, but goes further in giving an evaluation of the extent to which modern physics has, or has not, explained the periodic system. The book is written in a lively style to appeal to experts and interested lay-persons alike. The Periodic Table begins with an overview of the importance of the periodic table and of the elements and it examines the manner in which the term ‘element’ has been interpreted by chemists and philosophers. The book then turns to a systematic account of the early developments that led to the classification of the elements including the work of Lavoisier, Boyle and Dalton and Cannizzaro. The precursors to the periodic system, like Dobereiner and Gmelin, are discussed. In chapter 3 the discovery of the periodic system by six independent scientists is examined in detail. Two chapters are devoted to the discoveries of Mendeleev, the leading discoverer, including his predictions of new elements and his accommodation of already existing elements. Chapters 6 and 7 consider the impact of physics including the discoveries of radioactivity and isotopy and successive theories of the electron including Bohr’s quantum theoretical approach. Chapter 8 discusses the response to the new physical theories by chemists such as Lewis and Bury who were able to draw on detailed chemical knowledge to correct some of the early electronic configurations published by Bohr and others. Chapter 9 provides a critical analysis of the extent to which modern quantum mechanics is, or is not, able to explain the periodic system from first principles. Finally, chapter 10 considers the way that the elements evolved following the Big Bang and in the interior of stars. The book closes with an examination of further chemical aspects including lesser known trends within the periodic system such as the knight’s move relationship and secondary periodicity, as well at attempts to explain such trends.

From the Publisher

Pre-Publication Reviews.

"Written to a high standard of scholarship, "The Periodic Table" is the only book of its kind currently on the market, giving both an historical and philosophical perspective to the development of this key to the elements. The philosophical discussion Scerri weaves through its pages is rarely found in chemistry books, giving it a special quality that will appeal to the scientific community at large. In years to come it will be seen as essential reading for all who aspire to lecture and write on the subject." – John Emsley, author of "The Elements" and "Nature’s Building Blocks"

"As the author of "The Periodic System of Chemical Elements: A History of the First Hundred Years" (1969), I consider Scerri’s "The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance" a worthy successor. I declare his new book a must, not only for all historians of chemistry and the other natural sciences, but also for the scientists and pupils thereof." — Jan W. van Spronsen, author of "The Periodic System of Chemical Elements: A History of the First Hundred Years" "Few concepts are more important in chemistry than the periodic table, and Eric Scerri’s book offers a wonderfully thorough, lucid, and provocative introduction for both chemists and the scientifically literate to this major cultural contribution. Anyone interested in the foundations of chemistry will take delight, inspiration, and information from this highly approachable book." – Peter Atkins, author of "The Periodic Kingdom", "Molecules" etc.

"The periodic table of elements is the family tree of stuff, and Eric Scerri’s book tells the story of its evolution–through all the false starts and inspired insights, mutations and selections, driven by philosophy as much as calculation. Like any family story, it’s a messy tangle of relationships–between elementary particles and between people. The ultimate question is philosophical: Does it all boil down to different configurations of hydrogen? Or is chemistry–and therefore nature–ultimately irreducible?" -K.C. Cole, Author of "The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty" and "Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos".

About the Author

Dr. Eric Scerri is a leading philosopher of science specializing in the history and philosophy of the periodic table. He is also the founder and editor in chief of the international journal Foundations of Chemistry and has been a full-time lecturer at UCLA for the past five years where he regularly teaches classes of 350 chemistry students as well as classes in history and philosophy of science.



Beautiful Patterns, January 4, 2007

Humans are exquisitely good at finding patterns. Sometimes those patterns turn out to be illusory, such as the constellations. Sometimes they turn out to be very real, such as the patterns illustrated by the periodic table of the elements. Eric Scerri, in his book The Periodic Table, has done an excellent job of presenting a "warts and all" history of the periodic table. Instead of presenting the "heroes only" version of the history of the periodic table [speaking of illusory patterns] found in most high school and college textbooks, he gives us a full historical view with all the players, big and small, and shows how even ideas that turned out to be wrong had a positive effect on getting us to the periodic table we use today. Although scientists may someday show that the periodic table ultimately reduces to quantum mechanics, Professor Scerri shows us why we can’t say that with the level of certainty with which it is often presented in chemistry classes [the next time I find chemistry among my preps at the high school where I teach, I will be much better prepared to deal with the periodic table]. The interested lay reader should find the book quite accessible, but a knowledge of high school chemistry, especially in the later chapters where electron configurations are presented [idea for the paperback – include an appendix that covers some chemistry basics like electron configurations], will help. Knowledge of the terminology used in the study of philosophy will also help the reader. This book should be of interest to folks with an interest in the history and philosophy of science, even if they don’t have a specific interest in chemistry and the periodic table, especially fans of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I strongly suggest that The Periodic Table become required reading for all high school chemistry teachers! John Emsley is still my favorite writer on chemical topics, but Eric Scerri moves to a place not far behind.