Sunday, December 8, 2013

Interesting book on minerals and history

"Fifty minerals that changed the course of history"


Jessica Gwynne

December 6th, 2013

Chemistry World

When I first picked up this book, I expected it just to be about gemstones and pretty rocks. However, as the blurb suggests, Fifty minerals that changed the course of history uses the term ‘mineral’ in its loosest sense and includes a huge range of man-made as well as natural materials. While it does have those entries about quartz, diamond, jade and coral, it also includes ‘materials’ such as petroleum and asphalt, as well as a variety of metals, including gold, mercury, uranium and steel.

This isn’t a book about the chemistry of these minerals (although it does go as far as including their chemical formulae), but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. There is a separate entry for each material, and they are all listed alphabetically (by Latin or Greek name).

Each of the 50 selections describes the history of the material and its impact on civilisation, as well as including a variety of interesting anecdotes.

The book is well written, in a style that is easy to read and understand, and the entries range from two to eight pages in length, which makes it easy to dip in and out. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs, pictures and diagrams, and some of the additional snippets of information are included in separate boxes, which adds variety to the layout of the pages.

Fifty minerals that changed the course of history is a thoroughly enjoyable book that will be appreciated by a variety of audiences.

Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History


Eric Chaline

ISBN-10: 1845435079
ISBN-13: 978-1845435073

From Booklist...

Chaline offers yet another lens through which to view human history. This reference compiles 50 essays focusing on the influence of minerals on the progression of civilization. Topics are well considered, including both the expected and unexpected, covered varying degrees of detail. The entries characterize the minerals by their type, place of origin, and chemical formula. Importance is weighed according to four categories: commercial, cultural, industrial, and scientific. Numerous images, captions, and sidebars augment the author’s discussion of each subject. This serves to enhance the overall interdisciplinary nature of this text. For example, the entry for petroleum considers the early use of the substance equally as important as its current uses. It also recognizes the harmful ecological impact that it has had over the course of history. Information on other, lesser-known minerals, such as natron and kaolin, offers the reader an opportunity to delve further into each mineral’s historical significance in an accessible way. Minerals are organized according to scientific nomenclature, detracting from the ease of use as a quick reference. The order of entries, alphabetized according to their formal name, forces the reader of the full text to jump between disparate eras and cultures. Had Chaline organized these topics chronologically, the full text may have flowed more fluidly. However, simply organizing alphabetically by common name may also have enhanced the ability of the reader to access desired information more quickly. A short bibliography and listing of helpful websites is offered at the end of the monograph. As this is intended to be a brief guide, and not a specialist-level scientific reference, it may not be useful in higher education or for professional use. However, as an interesting, affordable, and readable guide, this work is recommended for most school and public libraries.
--Becca Smith.

He also wrote...

Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History

ISBN-10: 1554078970
ISBN-13: 978-1554078974


Humans are the most successful species of mammal to ever walk the earth, according to author Chaline. We have needed help to claim and shape the planet, and we may still be beaten by what we consider to be lower forms of life. In 49 informative essays, the author profiles mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, and other species that have assisted or resisted the human takeover. Most, such as horses, honeybees, and silkworms, have contributed to our geographic spread and technological advancement. Rats, lice, and mosquitoes have nearly wiped us out. The fiftieth essay is about us and how we may be our own worst enemy. Each two- to six-page essay recounts an animal’s relationship with humans and highlights “edible,” “medicinal,” “commercial,” and “practical” contributions to human history. Readers may choose to read only the essays that interest them. Natural-history students will find the essays helpful introductions to further study. A website guide is included. Recommended for most public libraries. --Rick Roche.

Fifty Machines that Changed the Course of History

ISBN-10: 1770850902
ISBN-13: 978-1770850903


This volume showcases machines such as the Jacquard loom, which automated the silk-weaving industry; the Hoover Suction Sweeper, which was the first upright electric vacuum; and the Hayes SmartModem, the first fully automated modem. The 50 entries are arranged in chronological order and range from two to six pages long. Entries are pleasing to the eye with photographs, illustrations, time lines, and quotes separate from the text. The tone of the text is readable and conversational, placing each machine and its creator within a historical context. The volume concludes with lists of books for further reading and useful websites and an index. Recommended for school and public libraries. --Blaise Dierks.

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