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May 2022 Vol. 59 No. 9

University of Chicago Press

The following review appeared in the May 2022 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Science & Technology

Ball, Philip. The elements: a visual history of their discovery. Chicago, 2021. 224p bibl index ISBN 9780226775951, $35.00; ISBN 9780226776002 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This attractive, copiously illustrated book lays out the history of the discovery of the elements beginning with the insights of the classical Greeks and working forward to the most recent discoveries of superheavy elements. The first chapter is entirely about philosophy, followed by one discussing metals widely used in antiquity. Next is a chapter on alchemical discoveries; then, increasingly, chapters focus on elements isolated and identified through modern chemistry and physics. The focus on order of discovery and identification leads to the mild surprise of finding helium appearing considerably later than uranium. Occasional non-elements, such as phlogiston, are also discussed as part of the story of the refinement of chemical knowledge. Every page is filled with relevant quotes from literature and science as well as large, detailed illustrations. Though the text refers to some elemental ideas from China and the Islamic world, it is very much centered on Europe. The volume concludes with meticulous documentation of sources for quoted material and the usual list of further reading, illustration credits, and the like. Though this is a very pleasant book to read and handle, it will be more at home in a humanities or art collection than a science-focused library.

--P. Larsen, University of Rhode Island

Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates. General readers.