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Mendeleyev\'s Dream

Mendeleyev's Dream

(2000)
The Quest for the Elements
A novel by

 
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

 
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