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.