The Ingredients

The Ingredients : A Guided Tour of the Elements

3.7 (48 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

What is it made of? What is in it? We have become a society fascinated about composition, and for good reason. Lead in petrol shows up in the snow fields of the Antarctic and mercury poisons fish in South America. Radon from the Earth poses health hazards in regions built on basaltic rocks and natural arsenic contaminates wells in Bangladesh. Calcium supplements combat bone-wasting diseases and iron alleviates anaemia. There are elements that we crave, and those we do our best to avoid. This book reveals that the story of the elements is not simply a tale of a hundred or so different types of atom, each with its unique properties and idiosyncrasies, but a story about our cultural interactions with the nature and composition of matter. It shows that understanding the elements is not merely a matter of reading a list, but of engaging with the reasons why people have long believed the world to be an elaborate composite of simpler materials, and how they sought to identify those primary substances.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 228 pages
  • 128 x 207.3 x 22.4mm | 344.74g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 25 b&w illustrations, notes
  • 0192841009
  • 9780192841001

Table of contents

Aristotle's Quartet - The elements in antiquity; Revolution - How oxygen changed the world; Gold - The most desirable element; The Eightfold Path - Arranging the elements; The Atom Factories - Making new elements; The Chemical Brothers - Why isotopes are useful; For All Practical Purposes - Technologies of the elements.show more

Review quote

An engaging chronology of the elements, from the Greek philosophers who thought the world was made only from earth, air, fire, and water, to the work of twentieth-century radiochemistry in extending the periodic table.show more

About Philip Ball

Philip Ball is a science writer and consultant editor for Nature. He is the author of Self-Made Tapestry, Designing the Molecular World, Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules, and Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water. He lives in London.show more

Review Text

Having taken readers on a guided tour of molecules (Stories of the Invisible, 2001), Nature consultant editor Ball now turns his attention to the elements. As is so often the case in science, the story begins with the Greeks. The philosopher Empedocles postulated that matter is made up of four basic ingredients: earth, air, water, and fire. All earthly substances were understood to be mixtures of these four, hence the alchemists' conviction that with the proper procedures, base metals could be transmuted into gold. The four elements meshed so neatly with other philosophical notions that it took 2,000 years for chemists to realize that the real world didn't conform to the elegant paradigm. Even then, the notion of elemental substances was not abandoned; instead, Cavendish, Lavoisier, Dalton, and their 18th-century followers found the classical elements to be mixtures of other, more elemental substances. At that point, the focus of chemistry changed to identification of those elements: iron, oxygen, sulfur, gold, and other, far less familiar ones. The number of elements has steadily increased to well over a hundred, with new ones still being added. A second great breakthrough was the Russian chemist Mendeleyev's realization that when arranged in the right order the elements fell into clear-cut families. With this key insight, embodied in the familiar periodic table, chemistry became a more exact science. The discovery of radioactivity opened more doors, notably the understanding that elements were not eternally fixed but capable of being changed-although by processes requiring far more energy than the alchemists had at their command. Ball covers the history of his field with admirable conciseness, taking welcome detours into the colorful lore of certain members of the periodic table, notably gold, which perhaps even today remains the single most charismatic of earthly substances. Solid scientific history, entertainingly presented. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

48 ratings
3.7 out of 5 stars
5 19% (9)
4 40% (19)
3 35% (17)
2 6% (3)
1 0% (0)
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