This is a new volume in the Science & Discovery series, a series which presents the exciting world of science as only scientists know it. The Science & Discovery books offer clear and enjoyable writing, the elegance of logical ideas, and glimpses of the scientist’s new and unfolding view of the universe in mid-twentieth century.
Isaac Asimov here tells the story of the 2,600-year-long quest to identify the stuff of which the universe is made. From Thales of Miletus to Seaborg of California, from alchemy to the cyclotron, from the search for the secret of turning lead into gold to the making of artificial elements, it has been a tale of follies, fakery, brilliant discoveries, and steadily building excitement. Among its heroes are Lawrence, Mendeléev, and the Curies.
Dr. Asimov relates this adventurous chronicle with scientific insight and his well-known sense of dramatic values. In a way, his book is a compact history of chemistry, for the devleopment of that science has been inspired and guided by the search for the elements. The book is illustrated by detailed tables of the known elements at various stages of the search up to the present.
This is a rather pleasant little book, rather like the earlier Abelard-Schuman science juveniles. Like Building Blocks of the Universe, it is a survey of the periodic table and all its entries—this time, however, the elements are examined in chronological order. This provides an opportunity to discuss the history of chemistry, particularly the concept of “element,” start from Thales and moving to the creation of the transuranic elements. In between, a fair amount of chemistry and nuclear chemistry is touched upon.
Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about this volume is that there is nothing about it to make it outstanding in the realm of Asimov’s non-fiction. It’s a good book, informative, not very badly out of date, and worth having if one can get a hold of it.