Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest For the Elements

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9780241140659: Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest For the Elements
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In this elegant and entertaining book, the award-winning novelist and expositor of difficult ideas, Paul Strathern unravels the history of chemistry through the dramatic quest for the elements. Framing this history is the life story of the 19th Century Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev, who fell asleep at his desk and awoke having dreamed the periodic table - the template upon which modern chemistry is founded, and the event which marked chemistry's coming of age as a science. From ancientphilosophy, 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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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

Synopsis:

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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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780312262044: Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest for the Elements

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ISBN 10: 0312262043 ISBN 13: 9780312262044
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001
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9780140284140: Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest For the Elements

Penguin, 2001
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9780149034104: MENDELEYEV'S DREAM A2 POSTER

ADULT PBS, 2070

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Book Description Hamish Hamilton, 2000., London:, 2000. Small 8vo. 308, [1] pp. Illustrations, index. Cloth, dust-jacket. Near fine. ISBN: 024114065X "In this elegant, erudite, but entertaining 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 nineteenth-century Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev, who fell asleep at his desk and awoke after conceiving the periodic table in a dream--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, Mendeleyev's Dream is the true story of the birth of chemistry and the role of one man's dream." "A nimble chronological history of the transformation of sorcery and superstition into chemistry. / Strathern (Foucault in 90 Minutes, 2000, etc.) does not focus on a single figure (despite his title), but instead addresses the fluidity of ideas over spans of time and space, demonstrating how the systemic ordering of the elements (a breakthrough in understanding akin to gravity) was ultimately grasped. He weaves his story from historical strands, commencing with the beginnings of scientific thought and the "pre-science" of alchemy (popular for centuries despite censure). Simultaneously, he presents his narrative as inseparable from the volatile personalities of great scientists, beginning with Paracelsus‚ "a swashbuckling 16th-century itinerant who, in synthesizing secret arts like alchemy and midwifery, may have been the first "emergent chemist." The author demonstrates a keen eye for detail and a great affection for his subjects; these portraits are humorous and dramatic rather than dry. This is epitomized by the story of Giordano Bruno, who invented a revolutionary memory system only to be burned at the stake in 1600 under orders of Pope Clement VIII. The Inquisition aside, Strathern perceives a real jump forward in scientific development during the 17th century, sparked by such disparate achievements as Galileo's perfection of the telescope, the reason-based philosophy of Descartes, and Francis Bacon's "science of thought and practice" (which was primary in asserting the potentially enormous benefits of such experimentation for humankind). Finally, the author sees in the gnome-like, isolated figure of Mendeleyev a template both for the eternally lonesome scientific quest and for the structuring of chemical understanding (upon which biological understanding is predicated). He concludes by depicting Mendeleyev's innovations in understanding and his 1869 "dream," in which " 'the elements fell into place as required' . . . the elements were listed in order of their atomic weights, their properties repeated in a series of periodic intervals. :: Crisp, provocative entertainment for armchair scientists, and a solid survey for more serious readers." :: Kirkus Review. Seller Inventory # S13168

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