Friday, November 19, 2010

Two Great New Books on the Elements

These two books are on the reading list for the high school level biology class my eighth grader is taking at a homeschool co-op this fall. I had never heard of or seen these books until our participation in this class.


The first book tells an interesting story from history for each element in the periodic table. This is an example of a not-in-vogue but fantastic (to my mind) genre "narrative nonfiction". The book is written by a physics major with a fascination for the elements, who prefers writing for his career.

I have been so busy and had no time to even glance at this book. Then I read an email from the teacher who said she expects the parents to read this also. Great, something else for my "to do" list. I have zero interest in the elements. I started reading it and am hooked. I'm learning things, interesting things. Why don't schools teach science like this?

Highly recommended. (It was published in 2010 and at present is only available in hardcover.)

The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean


I first glanced at the second book which another student in the biology class had at the co-op. I decided to buy it as anything highly visual and beautiful draws my visual-spatial learner in. I later saw the note that this was on the optional but recommended reading list for the biology class. After I bought it, just a couple of days ago I spotted it at Costco.

This is a gorgeous book with color photographs and lots of visuals. To me the illustrations seem better than the text. This is a book for adults and the text is a bit dry in some spots. One not-dry piece states, "Another idea that turns out to be stuipid as it sounds is using arsenic as a pigment." I had to laugh at that. The entire book is not so funny though.

The Elements a Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray (2009). At present this is only available in hardcover. It has a wide format and would be considered a coffee table book by nerds and geeks everywhere (and homeschool families hoping that the strewing about of educational books may lure in curious kids).

Also, thanks to the Amazon Gold Box deals I discovered there is a flashcard set companion to The Elements called The Photographic Card Deck of The Elements. I bought that too. Couldn't resist.


sm said...

do you think the element cards would be decent content (without the book)? i don't want to pay for both, we have studied the elements before, and i'm thinking the tactile nature of cards will go over well here. any advice?

christinemm said...

Hi SM,

When I saw the book I thought that it was great to take something usually thought of as scary and boring and to make it beautiful and visually stunning. The book is like a high quality coffee table book that you don't want to mess up, glossy thick pages and black backgrounds with colorful or metallic images on it, some are the size of the whole page. The book is large size. The book IMO is mostly for looking at in a gazing type of way not for studying out of.

The cards are the most beautiful flash cards I've ever seen.

I think which product is right for your family depends on if they will pick up the book and go through it. It's heavy and cumbersome, not good for toting around. If they will pick up the cards and flip through them, then they are best.

Maybe try to look at the book somewhere and see if you like it.

I was at a Barnes & Noble store this weekend and saw the book selling with a bonus DVD that only comes with the B&N version of the book but the cost of that B&N version book is $35 compared to $17 at

sm said...

thanks christine!