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Book Review The Periodic System of Chemical Elements. By J. van Spronsen

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and in industry because of their high melting points (up to
4100 “C), their very low creep rates at high temperatures
and their particularly good wear resistance, as well as other
favorable thermal and electrical properties. Whereas the
tungsten-based hard metals have been of world-wide
importance for many years, it is only during the past few
years that in particular the carbides of titanium, zirconium,
and tantalum, as well as their nitrides, have come into
industrial use. Thus, because of their low tendency to wear,
thin coatings of titanium carbide and titanium nitride
with lower-melting metals lead to a considerable improvement in the service life of cutting metals, and solid solutions
ofthecarbidesandnitridesoftitanium haveyieldedvaluable
materials for special uses in electrical engineering. For the
further development of these carbide and nitride materials,
however, a thorough knowledge of their crystal-chemical,
thermodynamic, and electrical properties as well as of their
superconductivity will be necessary in order to improve
above all their mechanical properties.
The fundamental knowledge about the properties of these
substances is presented comprehensively in this book,
which therefore offers the investigator in this field valuable
support, in connection both with the preparation of these
materials and with their possible uses.
W Dawihl [NB 80 IE]
The Periodic System of Chemical Elements. By J . van
Spronsen. Elsevier Publ. Comp., Amsterdam-London-New
York 1969. 1st ed., xv, 368 pp., numerous figures and
tables, bound Dfl. 50.-.
For more than ten years now van Spronsen has been
intermittently publishing interesting material on the
history and prehistory of the periodic system of chemical
elements, and the profession was aware that a larger work
from his pen was to be published in 1969, 100 years after
Dimitri Zvanovich Mendeleev’s publication. The hopes and
expectations of a new standard work on the history of
chemistry were fulfilled, and it was surprising how much
additional material the author had to relate.
By dividing the book into two parts (Part I :General Aspects
pp. 7to211 ;Part II:SpecificAspects,pp.213-355,followed
by a personal index and a subject index), he has managed
to present this material without overwhelming the reader
with details, since the first part gives a systematic survey,
into which everything else fits automatically because of the
cross references in the second part. Moreover, because of
the great scientific importance of the search for a system
of elements and the construction of the periodic system,
the book also constitutes a history of the chemistry of the
past 200 years, and in particular a history of ideas and
Not surprisingly to a science historian, it emerged that the
idea of a “natural” system of the chemical elements was
already very old, and that the stimulus by no means always
arose exclusivelyfrom chemistry or was chemically oriented
from the outset. There was a series of affinity tables in the
18th century, which are not discussed in any detail by van
Spronsen (but cf. A . M . Duncan: Some theoretical aspects
of eighteenth-century Tables of Affinity I. Annals of
Science 18, 177-194 (1962)), but comprehensive tables of
a “natural” system were possible only after the acceptance
of Lauoisier’s antiphlogistic chemistry; the first appeared
soon after this (Dobereiner’s triads, Berzelius’s electrochemical system, etc.). A periodic system was possible only
after terms such as atom and atomic weight had been ciarified at the Chemist’s Conference at Karlsruhe in 1860.
A whole series of such systems immediately appeared, and
the well-known systems of Lothar Meyer (1864/1870) and
Mendeleev (1869) were by no means the first; A . E. Bgguyer
de Chancourtois (1 862), J . A . R. Newlands (1863), W . Odling
(1864),and G. D.Hinrichs (1867)had preceded them in part.
However, the various workers knew little or nothing about
one another, and van Spronsen rightly states (p. 135): “It
should be clearly understood that Mendeleev’s work was
so brilliant precisely because he knew nothing of the studies
of his contemporaries. . . If he had known of them, Mendeleev’s work could only be considered as a useful summary
and continuation of that of his predecessors”. (It was only
on the presentation of his results to the meeting of the
Russian Chemical Society in March 1869 that Oiding’s
work was brought to his notice.)
On the basis of van Spronsen’s definition of the periodic
system @. 338: “The periodic system of elements is a sequence of all [known] elements arranged according to
increasing atomic weight in which the elements with
analogous properties are arranged in the same group or
column”), all six investigators mentioned above should be
referred to as “discoverers”, and this is confirmed by the
many other attempts that were subsequently made to find
an arrangement. (The author lists and discusses them with
their reasons and their consequences up to and including
1949; E. G. Mazur [Types of graphic representation of the
Periodic System of Chemical Elements, 19571carried them
on up to 1955, but mainly only bibliographically.)
The book is a goldmine for those who are interested in the
history of chemistry, and contains an abundance of interesting information and ideas from the recent history of
chemistry, which would offer stimulation and orientation
even to the non-historically minded chemist.
Fritz Krafft
[NB 73 IE]
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Angew. Chem. internat. Edit.I Val. II (1972) 1 No. I0
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