The Quest for the Elements
By Paul Strathern
(Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9780312262044, 320pp.)
Publication Date: April 2001
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In this elegant, erudite, but entertaining book, Paul Strathern, the award-winning novelist and expositor of complex ideas, unravels the dramatic history of chemistry through the quest for the elements.
Framing this history is the life story of the nineteenth-century Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev, who fell asleep at his desk and awoke after conceiving the periodic table in a dream-the template upon which modern chemistry is founded and the formulation of which marked chemistry's coming of age as a science. From ancient philosophy through medieval alchemy to the splitting of the atom, this is the true story of the birth of chemistry and the role of one man's dream.
Paul Strathern was born in London in 1940. He studied physics, chemistry, and math at Trinity College, Dublin, before switching to philosophy. He is the author of several novels, including A Season in Abyssinia, which won a Somerset Maugham prize, and two highly successful series of short introductory books, Philosophers in 90 Minutes and The Big Idea: Scientists Who Changed the World. Paul Strathern lectures in philosophy and science at Kingston University.
"Strathern does an excellent job revitalizing the drama of chemistry's volatile mix of ideas and substances. His readable romp through the annals of chemistry conveys a remarkable amount of information about science in general." --Sunday Times
"Chemistry has been a neglected area of science writing, and Mendeleyev, the king of chemistry, is a largely forgotten genius. Strathern's history goes a long way toward correcting that injustice." --Simon Singh, Sunday Telegraph, author of The Code Book and Fermat's Last Theorem
"In its pages there are more asides, anecdotes, ammunition for pub quizzes, personal information about alchemists, scientists, chemists, and charlatans, and touches of humor than the reader has a right to expect." --The Scotsman
"Strathern is an entertaining guide, too, capably marshaling a colorful cast of thinkers and experimentalists...Beguiling." --New Scientist
"[A] wonderful historical romp through mankind's attempts to understand the constituents of matter...a witty, complexity-free confection that makes nonsense of the idea-we need to make our science books more demanding and headache-inducing." --The Observer
"An earthly, rambunctious romp through the history of chemistry." --The Independent