This is a book which I rather enjoy a lot, and I'm frankly not sure why.

Why I enjoy it is not a mystery—it’s an excellent systematic exposition of virtually everything to do with the noble gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon): the history of their discovery, their physical and chemical properties, their uses, and so on. Along the way, Asimov teaches us about the periodic table, interatomic forces, chemical bonding, fluorine, oxygen, and lots of other interesting stuff.

The ultimate goal is to talk about the (then) recently discovered noble gas compounds, and why their discovery was so important. Asimov takes advantage of that part of the book to explain why the discovery was neither totally surprising nor unexpected (and yet still significant) and head off into a brief discussion of scientific ethics.

The exposition is clear and intelligible, the flow of thought smooth and effortless—precisely what one would expect of a book by Isaac Asimov.

So far, then, there is nothing to make it stand out in the field of Asimov’s non-fiction.

And yet it still does, for me. Perhaps it’s the fact that, unlike most of Asmiov’s chemistry books, carbon is not the hero (and is, in fact, barely mentioned). Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s an outstanding example of Asimov’s ability to explain so much in so brief a space with such clarity and ease.

Not being a chemist, I'm not sure how badly out-of-date the book is. Mind you, I'm certain that none of the material here has been proven wrong, but one would like to know what progress has been made in the study of noble gas compounds in the last thirty years. And radon has acquired a new significance in today’s society.

Still, on the whole, one would have to rate this as one of Asimov’s best chemistry books, and certainly one of my personal favorites.

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