The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance / Edition 1

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

The Periodic Table 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 Döbereiner 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.

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  • The Periodic Table
    The Periodic Table  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There are two versions of the periodic table's history: The one you thought you knew, and the one Eric Scerri lays out in this delightful history. Do yourself a favor: Let him be your Virgil and reveal the much richer version of the story! Highly recommended for anyone who ever wondered how this scientific icon became an icon in the first place."—Sam Kean, Author of The Disappearing Spoon

"Scerri's book presents an uninhibited warts and all history of the periodic table. I strongly recommend The Periodic Table: its Story and Significance to all secondary-school chemistry teachers."—Science in School

"This book is so much more than a parade of chemistry facts related to the periodic table. Each turn of the story of the development of the table is situated within the context of chemistry knowledge at the time and includes the criticism and comments of the investigator's contemporaries. Currently, when science educators are being encouraged to add a social dimension to their teaching this book can be strongly recommended as a useful addition to their chemistry reading list."—Chemistry Education in New Zealand

"An absolutely gorgeous book. I put it on my bedside table and then stayed up half the night reading it - it is immensely readable."—-Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat

"Eric Scerri's new book is a most appropriate work to mark the centenary of the death of Dimitri Mendeleev. The title-The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance-gives a fair idea of the book's contents, and the author's approach and perspective are captured by his statement that he is concentrating on "the fundamental scientific and philosophical ideas that underpinned the evolution of the system." This, then, is a book about scientific ideas. Scerri does provide brief biographical sketches of each of his scientific protagonists, but biographical, social and cultural context rarely intrude into the narrative."—Seymour Mauskopf, American Scientist

"This book is an important contribution to the history of an important tool in the study of chemistry. Its clear history and interesting explanations of the philosophy of the elements will mean that it will be useful for all kinds of students of chemistry and general science."—Simon Davies

"By writing this book and describing his philosophy, Scerri has done us a great service. Every chemist should read this book."—Chem 13 News

"There are few aspects of the story of the periodic system that Scerri would not tackle and would not make exciting." —Istvan Hargittai, Acta Crystallographica

"As one of the pioneering scholars in the philosophy of chemistry, Scerri has produced a comprehensive new book on the history and philosophy of the periodic system, which surpasses van Spronsen's book, and the result is a good antidote to reasearches who claim that chemistry is now only a reduced science or a service science."—International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry

"Only two monographs in English, by Francis Preston Venable and Jan W. van Spronsen...have dealt both in general and in detail with the history and evolution of the table and the problems that have developed in connection with it through the years...Scerri's volume, under review here, is a worthy successor to these classic tomes, for he has left no stone unturned in ferreting out information from articles, books and archives."—The Chemical Educator

"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 with 42 pages of notes."— Journal of Chemical Education

"The quality is not merely skin deep, there is a real scholarship inside...I would have been proud to have written this book rather than just contributing one image."— Education in Chemistry

"This is undoublty a book that every practising chemist and chemistry educator should read because of its far-reaching implications for understanding the nature of the periodic law and the challenges it presents to contemporary portrayals of the Periodic Table."— Newsletter of International History, Philosophy and Science Teaching Group

"The Perodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance should be of great interest and value to chemists and particularly to those chemists who teach about what makes up us, our world, and our science."— Journal of Chemical Education

"Resembling a surreal checkerboard, the periodic table of elements has acquired a mythic significance in our time, as Ptolemy's spheres did in the Middle Ages. Yet the table did not fall from the sky. It has a very terrestrial history; a complex and fascinating one. A century after the death of Mendeleev, the Russian with whom the periodic table is most famously associated, Scerri relates that history in his clear and absorbing account. Especially intriguing are his ruminations on a quasi-philosophical question, which is grist for the mills of reductionists and anti-reductionists alike: Can chemistry be reduced to quantum physics?."—San Fransico Chronicle

"It is an extermely rare occurrence to have the privilege of reviewing a book that is truly the definitive work in its field: The Periodic Table by Scerri is such a book."— Rayner Canham

"There are few aspects of the story of the periodic system that Scerri would not tackle and would not make exciting."— Istvan Hargittai, Budapest University of Technology and Economics

"Eric Scerri's first book is timely, fluently written, and full of interesting ideas."—Metascience

"This is undoubtedly a book that every practising chemist and chemistry educator should read because of its far-reaching implications for understanding the nature of the periodic law and the challenges it presents to contemporary portrayals of the Periodic Table."—Science & Education

"It is probably the best book about the best classification system ever constructed. It should belong to any library supporting teaching and research in Knowledge Organization."—Professor Birger Hjørland, Royal School of Library and Information Science

"It is a thought-provoking work in the history and philosophy of science, and for those with a true scholarly passion for chemistry, this book is definitely one to consider." — Journal of College Science Teaching

"By writing this book and describing his philosophy, Scerri has done us a significant service."—Structural Chemistry

"Scerri tries to understand the construction of the periodic table within the context of the history of matter theories. ... He insists that it results from the collective work of many chemists."—Nature

"Scerri reviews the discoveries of electrons, radioactivity and the connection between quantum mechanics and the periodic table."— Science News

"Scerri's book is scholarly and extremely well documented and, in large measure, fulfills its stated objective of establishing 'that one of the best ways to explore the relationship between chemistry and modern physics is to consider the status of the periodic system." —Current Science

"It is valuable for students and teachers in sciences, as well as in the philosophy, and any other discipline that has some reference to chemistry."— Ivan Jurani, University of Belgrade

"Scerri also deserves full credit for reminding the scientific as well as the historical communities that chemistry is a discipline with great ideas and philosophical implications that are just as fundamental and intriguing as those of physics."—Centaurus

"informative, thought-provoking, and worthy of careful study by scientists, historians of science, philosophers of science, and students of science."—History of Chemistry and Alchemy, Annals of Science No

"This book is required reading for every teacher of chemistry in high school, that minister to the general chemistry at the university level and those in love with the magic of the periodic table of elements."—Quimica Nova

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195305739
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/12/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 753,612
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Eric Scerri is a leading philosopher of science specializing in the history and philosophy of the periodic table. He is also the founder and editor in chief of the international journal Foundations of Chemistry and has been a full-time lecturer at UCLA for the past ten years where he regularly teaches classes of 350 chemistry students as well as classes in history and philosophy of science.

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Table of Contents

1. The Periodic System—An Overview
2. Quantitative Relationships Among the Elements
3. Discoverers of the System
4. Mendeleev
5. Prediction and Accommodation
6. The Nucleus and the Periodic Table
7. The Electron and the Periodic Table
8. Electronic Explanations by Chemists
9. Quantum Mechanics and the P.T.
10. Astrophysics, Nucleosynthesis and More Chemistry

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2007

    A reviewer

    If you are at all interested in modern science you must get this book. Scerri uses the development of the periodic table over the past 140 odd years to tell the story of modern chemistry and physics. The writing is clear and engaging. The parts I enjoyed the most had to do with the relationship of chemistry to quantum physics. If you thought that the periodic table was just about electrons in shells think again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer


    Surprisingly fascinating and long history of the discovery or formation of the periodic law of chemical elements that enabled the creation of the periodic table, from Gmelin to Mendeleev (with everyone and their grandmother in between) and beyond to the future.

    A couple chapters get bogged down in technical jargon, but there's always the internet to give you some good visuals to flesh-out your comprehension.

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  • Posted January 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Masterpiece

    Scerri's book is a veritable masterpiece that brings together several different aspects of modern intellectual thought. It contains elements of history, philosophy of science, science education and of course chemistry and physics. Unlike many other books this one is concerned with discovering relationships between different fields of science and the significance of the discoveries centered around the periodic table.<BR/><BR/>The book is a must for researchers, scientists, science educators and the interested public. It has been described as the definitive book on the periodic table in several journal reviews worldwide.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2012

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    Posted June 2, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2009

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