The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table's Shadow Side

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9780199383344: The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table's Shadow Side

The Periodic Table of Elements hasn't always looked like it does now, a well-organized chart arranged by atomic number. In the mid-nineteenth century, chemists were of the belief that the elements should be sorted by atomic weight. However, the weights of many elements were calculated incorrectly, and over time it became clear that not only did the elements need rearranging, but that the periodic table contained many gaps and omissions: there were elements yet to be discovered, and the allure of finding one had scientists rushing to fill in the blanks. Supposed "discoveries" flooded laboratories, and the debate over what did and did not belong on the periodic table reached a fever pitch. With the discovery of radioactivity, the discourse only intensified. Throughout its formation, the Periodic Table of Elements has seen false entries, good-faith errors, retractions, and dead ends. In fact, there have been more falsely proclaimed elemental discoveries throughout history than there are elements on the table as we know it today.

The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table's Shadow Side collects the most notable of these instances, stretching from the nineteenth century to the present. The book tells the story of how scientists have come to understand elements, by discussing the failed theories and false discoveries that shaped the path of scientific progress. We learn of early chemists' stubborn refusal to disregard alchemy as a legitimate practice, and of one German's supposed discovery of an elemental metal that breathed. As elements began to be created artificially in the twentieth century, we watch the discovery climate shift to favor the physicists, rather than the chemists. Along the way, Fontani, Costa, and Orna introduce us to the key figures in the development of today's periodic table, including Lavoisier and Mendeleev. Featuring a preface from Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann, The Lost Elements is an expansive history of the wrong side of chemical discovery-and reveals how these errors and gaffes have helped shape the table as much as any other form of scientific progress.

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About the Author:


Marco Fontani and Mariagrazia Costa both are affiliated with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Florence. Mary Virginia Orna is Professor of Chemistry at the College of New Rochelle.

Review:


"Rarely has so much been written so authoritatively about things that do not exist. In their marvellous The Lost Elements, chemists Marco Fontani, Mariagrazia Costa and Mary Virginia Orna detail the 'discovery' of dozons of elements that turned out not to be. ... This staggeringly comprehensive, well-researched book weighs in at more than 500 pages, yet does not get bogged down in minutiae." --Nature


"I have not read as truly interesting book as this one in decades -- dip into it, open it on any page, and you are immediately drawn into a tale of human ambition, folly, and ...ingenuity. In this lovingly researched book you have the dead ends, the voyages of discovery whose end is certain shipwreck. In The Lost Elements, these failures speak to us. The byways recounted in this book turn into lovely meandering paths, leading to an understanding of how chemistry really works." --Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Professor Emeritus of Humane Letters, Cornell University


"We all know the official elements, but the periodic table is haunted by ghosts as well--lost elements that made fleeting appearances and then almost disappeared from history. Almost. This delightful omnibus rescues those stories, and collects the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" of every chemist's favorite chart." --Sam Kean, author of The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons and The Disappearing Spoon


"The periodic table is the defining image of chemistry but it has a forgotten history of elements that never made it. These were discovered, debated and eventually discarded, but their tales are intriguing. Here is the inside story that recounts the darker side of chemistry and the bitter exchanges between eminent chemists that ensued. This is a unique and impressive work, well researched, and a pleasure to read -- but be prepared for some unsettling surprises." --John Emsley, author of Nature's Building Blocks


"The book is a history of the wrong side of chemical discovery and reveals how these errors have helped shape the Periodic Table. The originality of the book is that nobody else has attempted to discuss this before in details. It should be interesting to historian of Science, chemists, physicists, and lay readers." --METALL


"Recommended for periodic table scholars or for those chemists who want to better understand how we came to establish our current set of elements." --Library Journal


Included in Scientific American's December 2014 Books Round Up.


"Marco Fontani, Mariagrazia Costa, and Mary Virginia Orna have not only found a way to tell the story of this ubiquitous but not always fully appreciated table, they have very well managed to make it genuinely intriguing." --The Well-Read Naturalist


"Marco Fontani, Mariagrazia Costa, and Mary Virginia Orna have gone to immense efforts to provide a thoroughly comprehensive account of simple errors, wrong turns, rediscoveries, unsubstantiated crazy theories, quackery and even down-right deception... Thank goodness these stories have been brought back to life." --Times Higher Education Supplement


"That the authors of this book represented the shadow side of the periodic table without being judgmental is highly remarkable. They have enriched chemistry and taken it to a previously unknown dimension. It becomes difficult sometimes, if you attempt to understand the errors made at the time as mental gymnastics. Also for this reason, The Lost Elements is informative, interesting, and highly entertaining reading." Translated. --Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau


"The literature coverage is heroic, with 1500 up-to-date references, often from obscure journals. A volume of serious history to dip into, but there are riches here. If you want to read in detail about anglium, phipsonium, splittium and many others -- and their sometimes exotic discoverers -- this is for you." --Chemistry World


"Recommended." --Choice


"Overall, this book gives a fascinating insight into an aspect of science that is sometimes overlooked, the recognition and correction of scientific error." --Bulletin for the History of Chemistry


"Oxford University Press is to be commended for publishing an important and attractive book at an affordable price. The Lost Elements is a book to be savored, read and reread, because it reveals the real history of chemistry in the form of adventure stories." --Journal of Chemical Education


"The Lost Elements is the result of almost two decades of dedicated research and it draws its sources from old newspapers, personal interviews, and even obscure Vatican newsletters. A detailed chronicle of false scientific discoveries might seem pointless at first, yet it is a treasure to anyone interested in how science actually works." --Chemistry International


"The book is meticulously researched and fills a void in the history of chemistry... A valuable reference for historians of science and an essential read for anyone with a serious interest in the elements and their discovery." --Distillations, the Chemical Heritage Foundation Magazine


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