The Periodic Table

  • by Eric Scerri
  • Narrated by James Adams
  • 12 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 Periodic Table is written in a lively style to appeal to experts and interested lay-persons alike. It 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.


What the Critics Say

"This book is a fine addition to the history and philosophy of chemistry, fields that Scerri himself has played an important role in developing." (American Scientist)
"Eric Scerri is something of a rara avis. Scerri's philosophical orientation enriches the text by raising a number of thought-provoking issues...The book under review here is clearly and engagingly written and meticulously researched." (Journal of Chemical Education)
"Eric Scerri's first book is timely, fluently written, and full of interesting ideas." (Metascience)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Audible table - an oxymoron

Where does The Periodic Table rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have been pleased with almost all audible books. So if I say this book is below an average audible book the reader might think this was a poor book. That is not the case this was far better book than many I have read but below average book out of those I have listened.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Dmitri Mendelejev. It was interesting to learn he was not the first or best, but still for some strange reason the best known.

What aspect of James Adams’s performance would you have changed?


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No not really. The plot is not as captivating as in some "normal" story books

Any additional comments?

As a book this is not a big entertainment. But if one has similar desire as I have wanting to understand chemistry, science history and the universe; this is much better way than ordinary schoolbook.

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- Juha

Interesting, but narrowly targeted work.

Any additional comments?

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.

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- Danny

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-02-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios