I find it worthwhile to periodically – pun intended – review the elements of the periodic table. You know – oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and all that. Not being a scientist, my daily life isn’t full of helium and titanium, neon and potassium. These characters are endlessly fascinating. There’s a great new visual book out about them, but first let me tell you about its publisher.
I first met JP Leventhal when I took a night course in book publishing at NYU in the early 70s, which he taught. He was then a senior executive with a company called Crown Books and Outlet Book Company. JP went on to a long career working for big publishers until he finally set up his own shop, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, whose logo is a sitting retriever. When I first saw that logo on a book, I figured JP had gone into partnership with his dog. Later, I saw another publishing logo – they call it a “colophon” – and it was just a black dog. I figured maybe the dog had fired JP. That would be a shame, because JP is such a nice, smart, innovative guy. But, alas, the black dog logo was a new publishing company, and JP and his partner were intact and publishing away. 
I know most people don’t notice the name of the publisher of a book, but I always look. If the book is from certain publishers, you know you are going to get a good book. For example, in my posts I frequently refer to books published by WW Norton and DK (Dorling Kindersley). Black Dog and Leventhal, along with the German company Taschen, are especially good at giving you a lot for your money.
Black Dog and Leventhal – still happily together – have just published The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. This beautiful oversized book has a two-page spread on each element, starting with #1, Hydrogen, known to its friends as “H.” Each spread has photographs and illustrations of products made from the element, text about the element, and tabular information on its structure, melting and boiling points, and other key data. The pages of the book have a black background, which really makes the illustrations pop. This book is a joy to flip through for young or old, and you are bound to learn new things about the elements that are not only all around us but often inside us as well.
As long as I am talking about guides to the elements, I should mention two older and much less visual standbys. Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley (Oxford University Press, 2001) has the best textual information of any elements guide. Each section covers the economic uses of the element as well as all the scientific data, and ends with “element of surprise.” A book that has a few more pictures – although nothing like the new book – and good text is A Guide to the Elements by Albert Stwertka (Oxford University Press, 2002).   Guess I should have included Oxford in my list of favorite publishers! Each of these books has its partisans, and any one of them will expand your knowledge of the world in which we live.




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