The Last Sorcerers: The Path from Alchemy to the Periodic Table

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National Academies Press, Jan 1, 2003 - Science - 282 pages
7 Reviews
What we now call chemistry began in the fiery cauldrons of mystics and sorcerers seeking not to make a better world through science, but rather to make themselves richer through magic formulas and con games. But among these early magicians, frauds, and con artists were a few far-seeing "alchemists" who, through rigorous experimentation, transformed mysticism into science. By the 18th century the building blocks of nature, the elements of which all matter is composed, were on the verge of being discovered. Initially, it was not easy to determine whether a substance really was an element. Was water just water, plain and simple? Or could it be the sum of other (unknown and maybe unknowable) parts? And if water was made up of other substances, how could it be broken down into discreet, fundamental, and measurable components? Scientific historians generally credit the great 18th-century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier with addressing these fundamental questions and ultimately modernizing the field of chemistry. Through his meticulous, and precise work this chaotic new field of scientific inquiry was given order. Exacting by nature, Lavoisier painstakingly set about performing experiments that would provide lasting and verifiable proofs of various chemical theories. As the field slowly progressed, another pioneer emerged. Dimitri Mendeleev, an eccentric genius who cut his flowing hair and beard but once a year, addressed the most pressing questions that remained to chemists; Why did some elements have properties that resembled those of others? Were there certain natural groups of elements? And, if so, how many, and what elements fit into them? It was Mendeleev who finally constructed thefirst Periodic Table in the late 1800s. Between and after Lavoisier and Mendeleev were a host of other colorful, brilliant scientists who made their mark on the field of chemistry. Depicting the lively careers of these scientists and their contributions while carefully deconstructing the history and the science, author Richard Morris skillfully brings it all to life. He has been hailed by Kirkus Reviews as a "clear and lively writer with a penchant for down-to-earth examples."
  

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Review: The Last Sorcerers: The Path from Alchemy to the Periodic Table

User Review  - Andrea Hickman Walker - Goodreads

I really wanted to enjoy this book, but it just wasn't compelling enough to hold my interest. I have other books on the subject in my to-read list, so hopefully those will meet my needs better. Read full review

Review: The Last Sorcerers: The Path from Alchemy to the Periodic Table

User Review  - Bev - Goodreads

This book seemed to be written by a story-telling, but scatterbrained, professor. It wasn't scholarly by any means -- a thin volume, it jumped from one vignette to another, describing the transition ... Read full review

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Contents

1 THE FOUR ELEMENTS
1
2 PRELUDE TO THE BIRTH OF CHEMISTRY
26
3 THE SCEPTICAL CHYMIST
45
4 THE DISCOVERY OF THE ELEMENTS
68
5 A NAIL FOR THE COFFIN
90
6 ONLY AN INSTANT TO CUT OFF THAT HEAD
108
7 THE ATOM
130
8 PROBLEMS WITH ATOMS
145
9 THE PERIODIC LAW
157
10 DECIPHERING THE ATOM
176
Epilogue THE CONTINUING SEARCH
203
Appendix A CATALOG OF THE ELEMENTS
223
Further Reading
261
Index
265
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About the author (2003)

Richard Morris lives in San Francisco, California.

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