The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus

No, phosphorus did not jump to a new position in the periodic table - it is still element number 15. However, it was the thirteenth element to be discovered, and the isolation (by destructive distillation of large volumes of human urine!) of this strange substance, that seemed to glow with the essense of life, had alchemists convinced that they were close to discovering the ultimate secrets of nature. Gifted science writer John Emsley does a great job of telling the story of phosphorus, and its role in matches, warfare, poisonings, agriculture, pollution, insecticides, among others. Fourteen chapters are filled with stories and anecdotes that bring alive the history and the chemistry of this element. The author of "Molecules at an Exhibition" (my Pick in July, 1998) and "The Elements" has put together another book that is really a delight.

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

John Emsley

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, January 1, 2002