Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Giveaway - The Mystery of the Periodic Table

The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker
2003, Bethlehem Books, softcover

This new title from Bethlehem Books follows the tradition of Jeanne Bendick with her books on Archimedes and Galen by making scientific concepts accessible to ordinary people.

Wiker takes us all the way back to the Neolithic era to begin his story of mankind's fascination with metals that started the development of the science of Chemistry. The various scientific characters that play a role in this story - from ancient Greek atomists to brilliant modern scholars - are interesting in and of themselves. We learn of the diligent John Dalton (1766-1844) who kept a daily journal called "Observations on the Weather" for 57 years; the daring and foolhardy Humphry Davy (1778-1829), who discovered laughing gas and a whole slew of elements, and Dimitrii Mendeleev (d. 1907) who discovered the order of the elements by 'playing cards.' A great deal of scientific content that led to the development of the Periodic Table is presented in these middle chapters. The content is made particularly accessible through Wiker's humorous, engaging style and the connections he makes between each scientist's interest in a particular subject and what that meant to scientific progress. He also has fun pointing out the errors scientists made that ironically caused some of the very greatest leaps in scientific knowledge.

The last three chapters can be a little harder to follow and students will benefit from working through them slowly and carefully studying the numerous diagrams. The publisher recommends that, although the book is generally accessible to ages 10 and up, these later chapters might be more understandable to slightly older children. I found that drawing up additional diagrams of my own helped me to follow the text better (particularly diagrams of the structures of the electron "shells"). Diligence in studying these last few chapters really pays off, though, as the final discoveries about the Periodic Table and the well-ordered nature of the relationships between the elements are absolutely fascinating.

Highly and enthusiastically recommended! Probably the most fun I've ever had reading a science book. :)

Read the entire review here.

Donated by Bethlehem Books

Reviewed by Alicia Van Hecke

Thanks to the generosity of Bethlehem Books, we have two copies of this book to give away AND we'll be giving more of their books away tomorrow! If you'd like to be entered in this drawing, please leave a comment before tomorrow (January 29th) at 10 a.m. (Pacific time) and check back soon afterwards to see if you've won!

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