Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest for the Elements

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9780140284140: Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest for the Elements

In this book, Paul Strathern, the award-winning novelist and expositor of complex ideas, unravels the dramatic history of chemistry through the quest for the elements. Framing this history is the life-story of the 19th century Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev, who fell asleep at this desk and awoke after dreaming of the Periodic Table - the template upon which modern chemistry is founded, and the formulation of which marked chemistry's coming of age as a science. From ancient philosophy, through medieval alchemy to the splitting of the atom, this is the true story of the birth of chemistry and the role of one man's dream.

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Review:

On a wintry February day in 1869 the great Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev fell asleep at his desk after a marathon game of patience. When he woke, he looked at the delicately logical arrangement of the cards and saw the solution to a problem that had been vexing him for years: how to tabulate all the known different chemicals in a rational, coherent and meaningful way.

But how did he get there, intellectually? Was he just a dwarf standing on the shoulder of giants? Or uniquely gifted? On the basis of the facts and anecdotes Strathern skilfully weaves together here, the whole historical drama of chemical science, from the Four Elements of the Greeks, through the gold-hunting alchemy of the Arabs, to the near-misses (Phlogiston) of the Enlightenment, had been a kind of narrative prologue, building up to that seminal February day in Moscow and Mendeleyev's discovery of the Periodic Table.

Strathern's style is polished, lucid and easy-going. It is also extremely well matched to the fascinating story adduced in this absorbing and enlightening book.--Sean Thomas

About the Author:

Paul Strathern studied physics, chemistry and maths at Trinity College, Dublin, before switching to philosophy. He is author of several novels, including A Season in Abyssinia, which won the Somerset Maugham prize, and two successful series - Philosophy in 90 Minutes and The Big Idea: Scientists Who Changed the World.

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Strathern, Paul
Published by Penguin Books Ltd (2001)
ISBN 10: 0140284141 ISBN 13: 9780140284140
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Strathern, Paul
Published by Penguin Books Ltd (2001)
ISBN 10: 0140284141 ISBN 13: 9780140284140
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