This adaptation of a book for adults meanders through the history, uses, and misuses of the periodic table’s elements.
After a promising introduction about the author’s childhood fascination with mercury, the first chapter bogs down in an explanation of atoms too brief for those new to chemistry to make much of it. A dull summary of the men who created the periodic table follows. Those who make it through the first chapters will be rewarded by more-interesting, even dramatic topics such as chemical warfare, atomic bombs, and poisonous elements. Kean has collected numerous anecdotes and groups them together loosely by similarities. While the stories within chapters tend to be chronological, the book zigzags back and forth through history. Almost all the players are adults, mostly white men, with the exception of a teenage boy who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard. Occasional colloquialisms (“yuck”) seem aimed at younger readers, but overall the adaptation makes few concessions to its audience. For example, the terms “quantum mechanics” and “nuclear fission” appear with little explanation. (A closing glossary helps to compensate for this.) The text refers to Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about “starting the Manhattan Project” without further description, assuming readers have previous knowledge.
Not for a general audience, this will most likely attract readers already in their element among beakers and Bunsen burners. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11-14)