05.07.2018 / Robinson (Little, Brown) / Non Fiction / Paperback / 224pp / 978-1472140944
Target Audience: Popular science readers who share an interest in what makes our world possible. Readers who have an intermediate understanding of the Periodic Table and newcomers to quantum mechanics. People who like to learn and be entertained at the same time.
About ELEMENTAL: How the Periodic Table Can Now Explain (Nearly) Everything
If you want to understand how our world works, the periodic table holds the answers. This book shows you how to use it to understand all the ingredients necessary to make a world.
The Universe came into being 13.8 billion years ago. At this point, all of existence could be summed up as an endless soup of particles frothing at temperatures many times hotter than the Sun. It was chaos. Fortunately, as the Universe expanded, everything began to cool and the particles stabilised. It was around this time, as disorder gave way to order, that the elements were born. Fast forward to June 2016 and the periodic table of elements was finally completed with the discovery and addition of four new elements. At last we could identify all the ingredients necessary to make a world. But it doesn’t stop there. Human ingenuity knows no bounds; we have even begun to invent our own elements and have created an entire science devoted to their study: chemistry.
When it comes to chemistry, Tim James knows his stuff. In Elemental he tells the story of the periodic table from its ancient Greek roots, when you could count the number of elements humans were aware of on one hand, to the modern alchemists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, who have used nuclear chemistry and physics to generate new elements and complete the periodic table. In addition to this, James answers questions such as:
What is the chemical symbol for a human?
What would happen if all of the elements were mixed together?
How many bananas can you stand next to before you die of radiation sickness?
Which liquid can teleport through walls?
Why is the medieval dream of transmuting lead into gold now a reality?
The periodic table is one of my absolute favourite subjects because there is an almost indefinite amount of amazing information to be found within. Tim James’ Elemental is proof of that fact and it was a treat to read. I was absorbed from the first page by James’ informative, witty, passionate and down-to-earth writing. TJ has written Elemental to implore people to give the periodic table more consideration as it is a window into what we are, why our planet exists and how amazing the universe truly is.
Over 12 chapters and a handful of appendixes, Tim James brings lay people in on the ground floor of physics, chemistry, quantum mechanics and biology. Describing and explaining the whole completed table through stories of academia, failure, discovery, death, destruction, passion, weaponry, flavour and mediocrity (sorry Dysprosium…) to name a few. TJ’s writing is fluid (liquid Helium fluid) digestible and fascinating. TJ has an obvious passion for teaching and the periodic table and it is clear how important the subject is to him.
Not only does he approach the history and inner workings of each element and their subsequent compounds, but he also delves into the physics behind how they exist in our world. Briefly taking us through subjects like alchemy, quantum mechanics and chemical theories. The two most important aspects of TJ’s writing is that, firstly, he is detailed without over-complicating the descriptions and, secondly, he is utterly hilarious. TJ has that teacher banter and the jokes to back it up, I actually belly laughed at quite a few of his comments and observations. It broke the ice and grabbed my attention which TJ made full use of.
I appreciated the fact that TJ took the time to run through the dynamics of the atom that make up elements and how they function. It really added extra depth and meaning to how I perceived each element he was describing. Breaking down the behaviours of electrons, neutrons and protons and how they interact was invaluable to increasing the overall benefit of his writing and the doodles were certainly effective too! TJ’s analogies made a difference to my understanding as well, breaking down the detail into relatable concepts like Lego (I do love Lego). Elemental was a definite success that taught me plenty of details about the periodic table that I was unaware of, especially how they go about naming an element.
TJ writes like I imagine he lectures and his end goal for this book was providing an intellectual, yet enjoyable, understanding of the building blocks of the universe and what they are truly capable of. TJ succeeding in doing so and I highly recommend Elemental to all readers as it is informative and imperative reading filled with details about our world that we should all know and appreciate. Tim James has written an approachable and endlessly intriguing book about some of the best scientific work ever to be done and it deserves a spot on any readers bookshelf. I know that TJ has another project in the works and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
About Tim James
Tim James is a secondary-school science teacher, YouTuber, blogger and Instagrammer. Raised by missionaries in Nigeria, he fell in love with science at the age of fifteen and refuses to get over his infatuation. After graduating with a Master’s degree in chemistry, specialising in computational quantum mechanics, he decided to get straight into the classroom and now teaches science to anyone who will listen.