A Tale of 7 Elements



Eric Scerri


Oxford University Press, 2013


ISBN: 978-0-19-539131-2

This book follows Eric Scerri’s The Periodic Table- Its Story and Its Significance (2007), and focuses on the controversies and struggles surrounding the discovery of the last seven gaps that remained after the elements were ordered based on their atomic number. In this account, the reader will meet the chemists and physicists that were involved in the discoveries, and all the false starts that are such an intrinsic part of the scientific process. Since the author does not assume that readers are familiar with his earlier book on the periodic table, he summarizes all the important introductory information in the first two chapters, which comes in quite handy to the inexperienced. Nevertheless, the reader should be aware that ultimately this book will focus on seven elements and the history behind their discovery, so a full story of the periodic table will not be found here.

I find it rather ironic that a book on chemical elements does not have a complete periodic table to use as a reference. Although it is true that each chapter starts with an image of a periodic table, it is extremely simplified, only containing the symbols for the elements. Without the full names, atomic numbers, masses and element groups, the uninitiated will find these tables rather useless; especially when considering that the author refers to the elements by atomic number or full name in the text. I would have preferred to see a complete periodic table somewhere for quick reference, but in its absence the reader might want to have a smart phone handy, or simply find a pocket sized table which can double as a bookmark.


Generally, the book reads well although from time to time the narrative can get somewhat confusing given the absence of a complete periodic table as a reference, and to the presence of misprints throughout the book. Additionally, there tends to be unnecessary redundancy between chapters, almost as if they were originally written as independent compositions, only later to be cobbled together as a book. It is my opinion that future editions would greatly benefit from more stringent editing.