Winner of the Edison Foundation Award for the best science book for youth published in 1957.

In this book, which is periodically revised and updated, Isaac Asimov has chosen to call all the 105 chemical elements so far discovered “building blocks of the universe,” and shows why they are just that.

He discusses some of the elements separately, some of them in groups, according to their importance, tells us how they were discovered, who discovered them, how they got their names, what their uses are, and, in some cases, what their dangers are.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes and sidelights which help make the subject of chemistry, and its allied sciences, an endlessly fascinating one—even for those who are not chemistry students but who are interested in the world around them.

Isaac Asimov knows how to write about science for young people and provides a clear, up-to-date approach to the “building blocks of the universe.”

This is another fun little juvenile science book, one which probably hasn’t enjoyed the success of some of the others such as Inside the Atom, but deserves to. Here Asimov takes us on a guided tour of the periodic table and introduces us to the elements known as of the time the book was written. (I believe that the first edition of the book ended with 102 elements; my copy is of the 1974 edition and goes up to 105, and another half-dozen have been produced over the last twenty years.)

For each element, we get to find something out about its physical characteristics, its chemical characteristics, some of its more important compounds, and its main uses. The book is also organized around the periodic table, and so we are given a strong sense for the inter-relatedness that various elements have to each other: the halogens are in one chapter, for example, the rare earths in another, and so on. Exceptions are elements such as oxygen which are so important that they merit a chapter to themselves.

This book is definitely one of the highlights of my Asimov reading.

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