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: