Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Category: 540s

541: The Periodic Kingdom by P.W. Atkins


541.24: Atkins, P. W. The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements. New York: Basic Books, 1995. 149 pp. ISBN 0-465-07266-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 540: Chemistry
  • 541: Physical chemistry
  • 541.2: Theoretical chemistry
  • 541.24: Atomic structure

I’ve yet to read a book on science that was one giant metaphor. Normally, authors want to just educate the reader on a concept, flesh it out with rich histories and context, and then move on to the next thing. P.W. Atkins’s The Periodic Kingdom is a completely different beast altogether. He imagines the periodic table, on display in classrooms and science labs around the world, as a geographic map. The eastern borders house the nobility and the western shores are home to the most explosive elements. In between are the Metallic Desert, the southern island (transuranic elements), and the Eastern Rectangle (gaseous elements). And Atkins takes it upon himself to be the tour guide of this strange but rather organized kingdom.

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547: The Double Helix by James Watson


547.596: Watson, James. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of Structure of DNA. New York: Touchstone, 2001. 226 pp. ISBN 0-7432-1630-X

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 540: Chemistry
  • 547: Organic chemistry
  • 547.5: Cyclic compounds
  • 547.59: Heterocyclic compounds
  • 547.596: Fused heterocyclic compounds

Before 1952, no knew what DNA looked like. Isolated chemically in 1869 by Friedrich Miescher, no one had been able to come up with its definitive structure. But a single X-ray diffraction image taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling in May 1952 changed all that. Known as Photo 51, it gave James Watson and Francis Crick insight into how the molecule was arranged. Watson’s The Double Helix gives his perspective on the research, discovery, publication, and aftermath of the discovery that some would define as the greatest of the 20th century.

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546: The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean


546: Kean, Sam. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 346 pp. ISBN 978-0-316-05164-4.

Dewey Construction:

  • 500: Science
  • 540: Chemistry and allied sciences
  • 546: Inorganic chemistry

The first review of 2013 is a nice treatise on the periodic table of elements. I’m going for a bit of a different tactic this year. All of my previous reviews tried to give you a sense of the book without giving too much away. What I ended up with were weird, quasi-impersonal assessments that left out the one of the main premises of this project: to show that a immensely broad reading diet can both expand one’s tastes and emphasize just how interconnected information can be. Hopefully, my posts will be a little more energetic this year. That said, on to today’s book!

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540: The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson

540.92: Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead, 2008. 240 pp. ISBN 978-1-59448-401-8.

This one is simple enough: 500s are science; 540 is chemistry. A biography of a general chemist easily falls at 540.92.


Joseph Priestley was one of the brightest men of his generation. Having a natural affinity for at-home science (called natural philosophy is those days), he tinkered and experimented at every available moment. Steven Johnson’s Invention of Air chronicles Priestley’s life at it intersects the revolutions of both the American colonies and the French monarchy as well as the birth of the modern scientific method.

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