It may sound strange but think of Bunpei Yorifuji’s “Wonderful Life with the Elements” as what happens when Anime goes to a chemistry class. The 205-page hardbound book from No Starch Press may look whimsical but it is stuffed full of interesting and useful information about the Periodic Table and the elements, but with a twist. Rather than the expected atomic symbols, protons and electron orbitals, elements are represented by quirky cartoons.
For instance, elements take on a human persona and each of the chemical groups in the periodic table is represented by a different haircut. The uses of the elements are shown as different costumes they wear on what looks like bobble head dolls. When the elements were first discovered is shown by how old the doll looks and gases are shown as things that look like ghosts. For example, Scandium shows up in the book as a nerdy celebrity and Carbon is seen as something akin to a Zen master.
The overall effect of Yorifuji’s book is a mixture of bemusement, curiosity and interest. The look is odd to say the least, which is compounded by the book’s cream colored paper that’s printed with only black and yellow ink. On top of the expected melting-, boiling- point and density data on the elements, the book takes an oddball approach with things like the elements in breakfast and the conductive elements arranged as an orchestra. There are also pages describing the prominent elements in ancient times through today.
Each element gets a short description, cartoons as well as a nickname that can help kids remember it. For instance, because of its use as a paint pigment, Chromium is called the tortured artist and helium is the lighthearted gas that raises our spirits and voices. Overall, the book is overflowing with information but can’t compare with established reference books like the Merck Index. Still, “Wonderful Life with the Elements” is presented in a way that its contents have a better chance of being remembered than typical textbook information.
A great way to get to know the elements, the book’s informality works at many levels. It’s a great introduction to the complexity and depth of the elements without being burdened by heavy math. It all comes together in what Yorifuji calls the Super Periodic Table, a 13.5- by 11.5-inch pull-out poster that’s included at the end of the hardbound book. It’s too small for a whole class to see and I wish that it was available in a larger format.
All told, “Wonderful Life with the Elements” succeeds at many levels and can turn a boring recitation of properties to a fun and memorable experience. The printed edition (ISBN: 9781593274238) costs $18, but there’s an ebook for $15; together you can get the set for $20. While some will dismiss it as soft science I was quite taken by the book and see that it can have a place in a middle- and high-school science class. In fact, every chemistry classroom or school library should have at least one printed or ebook copy.
“Wonderful Life with the Elements” by Bunpei Yorifuji
+ Whimsical approach to science education
+ Filled with key facts
+ Names and cartoons can help remember facts
+ Includes poster
+ Available as printed or eBook
- Odd look
- Can’t compete with traditional reference book