Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Elements

The Elements

Before I begin discussing this book, I'd like to make a little detour and explain a literary allusion that seems relevant here.

There is a character, in Dickens' classic David Copperfield, named Mr. Dick, who is attempting to write an autobiography, but keeps running into a problem. Mr. Dick is a gentle soul, and a little crazy, and he is obsessed with the matter of the head of King Charles I. The subject keeps finding its way into his manuscript, no matter how hard he tries to keep it out. The phrase "King Charles head" was picked up by other writers, and by the end of the 19th century it was a common expression for an obsession that keeps intruding into matters where it's not relevant.

Now, back to the The Elements. The author, Theodore Gray, has a bit of a King Charles' head, and that head is his aversion to incandescent lighting. You would think that in a book that covers, literally, every thing in the world, he could find other things to write about. But no, he is thoroughly and enthusiastically opposed to incandescent lighting. It is bad.

And it's amazing in how many places he manages to bring the discussion around to his topic. I mean, I would have expected it under tungsten. But he talks about incandescent light bulbs all thought this book! Amazing.

I ordered this book from the library after reading a review that said it had amazing photographs. Eh. It's formatted pretty much in the manner you'd expect of a junior reader encyclopedia. There's a big picture of element on the left-hand side, and a bunch of smaller pictures of its applications on the right. There's a little bit of text, in white lettering on a black background. The book smells like Play-Doh.

One review I read of this book suggested it was perfect for high school students. Not bloody likely. If your high school student already knows, for example, that diamonds are made of carbon, this book is way too elementary for him.

Or if he already knows about incandescent light bulbs.

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