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Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements Paperback – September 18, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0198503408 ISBN-10: 0198503407

Price: $7.95
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198503407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198503408
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Written by the author of The Elements (3d ed., Oxford, 1999), a data book on chemical elements created for scientists, this work is aimed at a general audience. All of the elements are covered, from actinium to zirconium to an element thought to exist but not yet synthesized (element 119). The alphabetically arranged entries range in length from two (Actinium) to nine pages (Hydrogen). Elements of atomic number 101 and above are discussed in a single entry for the transfermium elements.

Following brief information on the element's name and pronunciation, each entry is arranged into several sections addressing specific uses or roles. For example, "Food Element" treats the importance of the element in the human diet, and "Element of History" deals with the element's discovery. Also covered are medical, economic, environmental, and chemical aspects. There is even an "Element of Surprise," which highlights some interesting facts. Here and in occasional sidebars we learn that Mozart may have been accidentally poisoned by antimony, cobalt was once used to make invisible ink, silver can be used to sterilize water, mercury was once used to treat syphilis, and Napoleon may have been poisoned by arsenic from the wallpaper at his home on St. Helena.

There are many sources of accurate information on the chemical elements. A distinguishing feature of this work is the inclusion of unusual facts that should appeal to the general reader with little science background. It is recommended for special, public, and academic libraries. RBB
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An astonishingly comprehensive survey of nature's fundamental ingredients.... By combining juicy anecdotes and fun with a wealth of up-to-date reference material, 'Nature's Building Blocks' hits the spot."--Malcolm Browne, New York Times

"A marvel--encyclopedic in scope, but so full of enthusiasm, so engagingly written, that one can open it at any point and read for sheer delight.... I have read and possess many books on the elements, but it is Dr. Emsley's new book which will now sit next to me on my desk."--Oliver Sacks

"An engaging gadgeteer of the elements."--George Johnson, New York Times

"A delightful, idiosyncratic survey of the known elements, this guide also includes many nuggets of surprising information--for example, the use of fluorine (found in our bones and teeth) in the development of the nonstick frying pan."--Natural History

"John Emsley's colorful account of all the elements in the universe is a succinct history of everything.... Emsley drew on 20 years of collected magazine and newspaper articles to produce this marvelous reference work. 'Nature's Building Blocks' is the kind of book people consult in the pursuit of a single fact, but this fact will lead to another and another, drawing the reader in an enjoyable chase from naturally occurring nuclear reactors to human zinc deficiency and on to the number of elements named for one small town in Sweden (four)."--New York Times Book Review

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Customer Reviews

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This book is so much fun to read.
A comprehensive reference book on all the elements in the periodic table.
Great book for anyone with an interest in chemistry!
The Mad Scientist

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Crocker on April 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
John Emsley writes excellent books on chemistry and Emsley's The Elements [3rd Edition] is an indispensable guide to the chemical elements for scientists. However, a layperson delving into The Elements may find it tough going because of its myriad numbers and tiny tidbits of text. In Nature's Building Blocks, Emsley dispenses with most of the numbers and expands the tidbits of text into page length essays on each element. Even though the book is clearly a reference book, the section on each element is an enjoyable read. Each section is divided into subsections that relate the element's significance to the cosmos, humans, food, medicine, history, war, economics, the environment, and then ends with a section called the Element of Suprise [one element's suprise is that there is nothing that Emsley could find to say about it that was suprising]. This book contains the kind of information I need as a chemistry and earth science teacher in a high school to spice up discussions on the elements. All laypeople with an interest in chemistry need a copy of this excellent book. Every high school library in the country should have a copy of this book on their shelves.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on March 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
I was looking for a good book on the elements over the last few years and kept drawing a blank. The few I found were too technical, too simple, or involved strange treatments. Than I found this book! It was exactly what I wanted. A complete treatment of the elements of the periodic table alphabetically arranged. When I first found it I thought I would test it out by checking a rather obscure biological fact- certain tunicates (ascidians) concentrate vanadium in their blood. On p. 486 I found the reference with one error- Ascidia was called a "worm" (it is a Urochordate). However, the author made up for this by noting under copper that snails, spiders, octopi and oysters utilize that element as part of an oxygen-carrying blood pigment, making their blood pale blue.
Other entries were just as fascinating. The sections for each element cover such subjects as human involvement (biologically- including food and medicine), history, economics, environmental associations, chemical properties and "Element of Surprise" - little known facts regarding the element in question.
Where else could you find the origin of Teflon, the history of lead, the use of a salt of nitrogen to inflate airbags, or that thorium oxide was injected into patients during early X-ray diagnosis? These, and a host of other facts, are presented in exacting detail in "Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements."
This is a very much-needed book for anybody requiring a good reference on the chemical elements. It is also a very good read!
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on April 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There's got to be a lot of folks out there like myself who at one point or another had some genuine interest in science as a topic but had that enthusiasm crushed by what passes for "science education" in our schools. Between nerdy and boring teachers in middle and high school and science texts whose only real point seems to be rendering the reading of statutory tax law or specifications for sewer pipe manufacturing seem exciting. People who were not necessarily destined to be scientists but who gladly would have dived into the subject had there been any incentive whatsoever to do so.
Well, you can dive in to Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley and plan to stay as long as you want. This is science presented with the flair and wit that, if more widely employed, would make studying science a lot more palatable to many students.
Emsley is a respected science text writer, so he knows the subject inside out. His aim here is to inform and entertain both. The elements appear alphabetically. Information encompasses the basics of the element's structure and abundance in the world, common uses, it's significance to human health and disease and the impact it has on our lives in general. There's a closing "Element of Surprise" that covey's an interesting fact about the substance.
The essays are long enough to be informative and short enough to keep attention from wandering. This is the sort of book you can either read right through or leave around and sample every now and then.
Overall, an excellent general guide and reference book students and their parent's can both enjoy and find useful.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mark B. on June 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is as great as all the other reviewers say. It's the kind of book that's fun to explore -- each entry is self contained, and there are also a few short sections on the elements in general (for example, a history of the periodic table).
The only negative comment I have is the poor copy editing. There are numerous spelling and grammatical errors. In the periodic table section alone, on one page, there were three spelling errors and three numerical errors. Needless to say, this is a especially problematic with a reference work...
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By stellavision on April 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Although it looks like a textbook, "Nature's Building Blocks" reads like a collection of bedtime stories -- fascinating information about each of the elements, including things that are common-sense but you may never have thought of and stuff that's just gee-whiz cool and unexpected. Like a collection of bedtime tales, you needn't start at the beginning and go to the end -- you can pick any element you like and enjoy the delicious nuggets of information.
The book suffers from a disturbing number of awkward sentences -- it deserves a much better copy editor for the next edition!
This won't replace a chemist's CRC Handbook for sheer amounts of data, but unlike CRC it's a heck of a lot of fun to read.
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