Elemental questions

Around the world in 18 elements
David Scott
Royal Society of Chemistry
2014 | 254pp | £19.99 (PB)
ISBN 9781849738040


Numerous books on the periodic table have appeared in the last few years, including some singling out particular selections of elements for study (for example Seven elements that have changed the world and A tale of seven elements). What distinguishes this book from the others is that it is targeted at A-level students and their teachers, though International Baccalaureate and foundation year university students would also benefit.

The author has chosen 18 elements and examined an extremely extensive range of aspects of their chemistry. He has clearly read widely; for example he is up to date with the growing evidence that links crime with levels of lead (not those from bullets). These accounts are complemented by an excellent variety of questions – often unusual in context – that will test your students’ quantitative skills. They cover all sorts of aspects of A-level chemistry, from moles, oxidation numbers and electron configurations, through kinetics and energetics to pH, solubility and electrochemistry. The book features some excellent discussions of some ‘awkward questions’, such as giving a clear account of the reasons behind the unexpectedly large redox potential of lithium.

A problem with writing a wide-ranging book like this is that once you get started there is no limit to what you can include. All the same, I would have hoped that the section on lead would include the link between lead levels and IQ: recommending a book like Toxic truth would provide a hat-tip to the pioneering research of Clair Patterson and Herbert Needleman. Similarly, a link between Haber’s process for making ammonia and his oversight of Germany’s use of poison gases during the first world war would have been good.

However, these are very minor criticisms. I thoroughly recommend this book to all A-level teachers who wish to challenge their pupils.

Purchase Around the world in 18 elements from the RSC bookshop. RSC members will receive a 35% discount.