The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements

For a graphic as colorful and informative as the periodic table, many books on the subject are quite drab. That makes Tom Jackson’s book, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide To The Elements all the more striking when you flip through its colorful pages. A lot is packed into this slim tome, which takes a holistic approach to the most famous graphic in all science.

The book does dedicate a page or two to each element, but not before outlining each group as a unit and discussing several concepts critical to learning chemistry. That’s actually my favorite part of the book. From the size of an atom to radioactivity to reactivity, The Periodic Table devotes space to topics that are often given little deliberate attention.

That said, Jackson does an admirable job describing the elements individually, too, often sharing facts that rarely appear in other popular sources. It necessarily can’t go in-depth on any of these subjects, but what it lacks in depth the book makes up for in breadth.

Every page of the book is accompanied by flat, vibrant illustrations peppered with occasional black-and-white photographs. It is a joyful approach to the subject, and it often feels more like reading a magazine than a textbook — even as it explains concepts like “bulging anions” and “accumulated action.”

And it is a spectacular tool for learning. While the podcast is a great medium for communicating the stories of chemistry, it’s difficult to explain complicated chemical concepts via an audio-only format. This is precisely where Jackson succeeds, using these bright illustrations to teach complicated ideas in a way that makes them seem simple.

I’ve acquired a fair number of books about chemistry, at this point. While I manage to find all of them useful in some way or another, some of them are not exactly enjoyable. The Periodic Table manages to succeed on both fronts, and makes a great addition for the library of anyone with so much as a passing interest in science.

Buy The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide To The Elements by Tom Jackson:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


Upcoming Schedule, Part II

Hello, Listener. Under better circumstances, you would be learning about erbium right about now. Unfortunately, that episode is not quite ready yet. Between my day job and the possibility of a very big move in my near future, I simply haven’t had enough time to create a quality episode according to my usual schedule — and I probably won’t be able to for the next couple weeks, either.

However, I didn’t want to just fall off the face of the earth. So I hope you’ll accept my apologies for the delay in our regularly scheduled programming. Instead, today and for the following two Mondays, I’ll post reviews of chemistry books that might interest an element enthusiast like yourself. It’s not the same as a new episode, but I hope it counts for something while you wait for me to give erbium the attention it deserves and produce a proper episode.

That episode will be published on Monday, October 5, by hook or by Crooke’s tube. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and for being a listener.

Upcoming Schedule

Just a quick note to mention that there will be no new episode on Monday, September 7. I’ll be traveling and unable to record — plus, it’s Labor Day. Might I recommend you mark the occasion by reading about the bloody struggle fought by the American working class, in the past as well as today.

Also, yes, that is Teen Vogue. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but over the past few years that magazine has become one of the most class-conscious publications available in the mainstream. The 21st century is weird.

Anyway, join me again on Monday, September 14 to hear all about erbium.